Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Defamation and the Internet

    With the exponential growth of websites and blogs society has been forced to address defamatory abuses on the internet: sometimes wild and unsubstantiated statements about individuals which would be the basis for tort liability if published in a newspaper or a book.
    Ordinarily, the publisher of defamatory material authored by a third person is subject to tort liability. But in 1996, in the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. § 230, Congress created an exception to this general rule for internet publication. In substance, if one is a "provider or user of an interactive computer service" he is not liable in tort for publishing material authored by third parties.
    Today in Shiamili v. The Real Estate Group of New York, Inc., a divided New York Court of Appeals took its first look at the CDA and ruled that Section 230 immunity applies to those who run a blog dedicated to the New York City real estate industry. The allegedly defamatory comments were written by readers of the blog, not the administrator of the blog. In the view of the majority of the Court, simply publishing the comments could not create tort liability in light of Section 230.  A dissenting opinion by Chief Judge Lippman maintained that the defendants had gone further than merely publishing the material: they abused their power as website publishers to "promote and amplify defamation targeted at a business competitor." The dissent is noteworthy because Chief Judge Lippman is seen as a strong advocate of First Amendment free speech.
    The majority opinion in Shiamili contains an excellent survey of cases from across the country interpreting Section 230. The decision can be found here  

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