Business Administration Education Guide

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

CA Supreme Court ruled that Internet service providers & users can not

In a sweeping decision, the California Supreme Court just ruled that Internet service providers and users--including bloggers--can't be sued for defamation merely for publishing material written by someone else.

The case, Barrett v. Rosenthal, had attracted the attention of civil rights groups including the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which hailed the court's ruling as a free speech victory.

"The court has ensured that the Internet will remain a vibrant forum for debate and the free exchange of ideas," Ann Brick, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. "Any other ruling would have inevitably made speech on the Internet less free."

The case stemmed from a dispute between Ilena Rosenthal, who ran the Humantics Foundation for Women as well as an Internet discussion group, and two doctors--Stephen J. Barrett and Timothy Polevoy--who operated Web sites that exposed health frauds. Participants in Rosenthal's discussion group sent in comments impugning the doctors, according to the court opinion. The physicians warned Rosenthal that the comments were false, but she allegedly republished them online.

In its decision, the court interpreted the Communications Decency Act of 1996 as protecting everyone but original authors from liability for defamation. The law, "does not permit Internet service providers or users to be sued as 'distributors,' nor does it expose 'active users' to liability," wrote the court.

At the same time, the judges didn't appear to be entirely happy with the result. "We share the concerns of those who have expressed reservations," the court wrote. "The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications."

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