LEGAL LANDMARK: Bloggers Can’t Be Sued For The Secondhand Smoke of Libel

Wow, if this ain’t legal manna falling from the heavens ‘neath the robes of the California State Supreme Court, we’ll name our first born Stare Decisis:

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) — The California Supreme Court said Internet publishers can’t be heldlibel.jpg liable if they post defamatory comments written by others, a victory for online companies like Google Inc. and Time Warner Inc.’s America Online Inc.

The court, in a unanimous decision, said those claiming defamation can only sue the original source of the allegedly offending comments, not publishers or distributors, even if the distributor is an individual. Internet users are protected by the same 1996 Communications Decency Act that grants immunity against defamation claims to publishers in most circumstances, the court said, overturning a San Francisco appeals court.

“By declaring that no `user’ may be treated as a publisher’ of third party content, Congress has comprehensively immunized republication by individual Internet users,” the court said today.

The ruling means plaintiffs claiming defamation can’t get around the 1996 federal law by filing state suits. Internet service providers, search engine companies and civil liberties groups said that holding Web publishers liable would force Internet companies to keep track of every posting on discussion groups they host that may be offensive and open a flood gate of similar suits in California.

The case represents the first time an individual sought the same immunity from defamation liability that is afforded to Internet service providers under federal law, the court said.

“It’s good news for free speech on the Internet because the Internet can’t be the vibrant forum for free speech that it’s become if users and Internet service providers alike have to worry about getting sued when they republish something that someone else says,” said Ann Brick, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

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