California Decision: Newsgroups/Bloggers Can’t Be Sued for User Posts (Barrett v. Rosenthal)

  Text of Barrett v. Rosenthal (Nov. 20, 2006)
The California Supreme Court, in overturning a San Francisco appeals court decision, unanimously concluded that the 1996 Communications Decency Act insulates Internet providers and Web sites against lawsuits for the defamatory statements of others. The Act provides:

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

In this case, the plaintiff doctors operated Web sites devoted to exposing health care fraud. Rosenthal, a woman's health advocate, posted a third party's e-mail that included harsh remarks about the doctors, calling them “quacks'' and “dishonest,''. The doctors sued for defamation, arguing that Rosenthal should be held responsible for posting the allegedly libelous material, along with the author of the e-mail.

"The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications," writes Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan in the majority opinion. "Nevertheless … statutory immunity serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended."

While an important victory for the likes of AOL and Google, it is also important for the growing Bloggosphere as it represents the first time an individual has sought, and obtained, the same immunity from defamation liability that is provided to ISPs under this Act.

Dale's Comment: OK, so I guess this means I'm off the hook for the silly things you might post in the comment section of this blog – at least in California.

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