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Court Says Bloggers, Forum Participants Can't Be Sued

 1:12 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

"The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that bloggers and participants in Internet bulletin board groups cannot be sued for posting defamatory statements made by others.

In deciding a case closely watched by free speech groups, the court said a federal law gives immunity from libel suits not only to Internet service providers, like AOL, but also to bloggers and other users of their services."


It seems like the key word is "by others" - the ruling doesn't give an individual the right to defame someone, but it appears to extend ISP protection to bloggers, forum operators, etc. It will be interesting to see what in-depth analysis of the decision reveals.

Full decision: [courtinfo.ca.gov...]



 1:27 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Well that gets me off the hook in a few places. Great post Thanks


 1:49 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

This has got to be huge for all kinds of Web 2.0 sites that rely on user-generate content - reviews, wikis, etc.


 1:51 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

This has got to be huge for all kinds of Web 2.0 sites that rely on user-generate content - reviews

So I can't be sued for people leaving a "bad" review of product X on my website? Great! Its good to know.


 1:53 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Emminently sensible decision ..judge should be commended

European courts should take the same view ..one can dream ..

[edited by: Leosghost at 1:55 pm (utc) on Nov. 21, 2006]


 1:58 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

It makes perfect sense when combined with the earlier ruling (also in California, IIRC) that bloggers have the same responsibilities as other news outlets. Can you imagine a network or newspaper getting sued for saying, "Candidate A said today that Candidate B is a 'scummy slumlord'"? Of course, the responsibility that goes with the right to report the quote is attributing a correct quote to a correct source.

ETA: Just saw Leosghost's post. In the discussion on the earlier ruling I mentioned, one thing that was brought up is that the U.S. rights to free speech and to a free press make no distinction between "legitimate news sources" and anyone else. All those who disseminate news/information/opinions are "legitimate news sources" with the same rights and responsibilities as the big players. This may not be true in some countries - which means they might have a larger issue of free speech/press at stake. I have no idea how this would "play" in Europe.

[edited by: Beagle at 2:10 pm (utc) on Nov. 21, 2006]


 2:35 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Gets me off the hook too ;)

I sort of got myself off it anyway but that's nice to read.

So here is a question -

I worked for a small Marketing Company that provided SEO (rudimentary in my opinion)

I have stated several times on Blogs and my websites that I worked for this this company and get the magical attorney letter accusing me of coat tailing. I have stated nothing derogatory at all.

I can say who I did or did not do work for can't I? How many times? If I added the company as a sign off on my Blog that is not wrong is it?

Thanks for stopping by

formerly of "***** ******* *******
Now ******* ******** ********


 3:00 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Well any body who reads Matt Cutts blog must be a relieved guy tonight. But that is simply part of the forum/blog community we all take risks - never malicious but if someone is promoting goods then whty should we not be protected by telling the truth over what goes on in a public domain? Newspapers have been doing it for years with their corporate weight to protect them.


 3:10 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Recent ruling in the UK forced a health / education forum to remove third party posts about a self proclaimed "expert" under threat of libel laws ..

Most European fora have nowhere near the freedom of expression enjoyed by those in the USA ..

Where I am posting from we are particularly hampered in what we can say ..even when it is the truth ..

Our TV and print media are not as independant ..nor do we have as much freedom of speech as our governments and their friends ( and frequently in the case of where I'm posting from ..their husbands and wives and other family members who are also supposedly "unbiased" reporters ) in the media would have us and you beleive ..

We have many laws already limiting what can be discussed ..some carrying criminal penalities ( jail time etc )..the UK is talking about aligning itself and maybe going further than some of it's European partners ..

[edited by: Leosghost at 3:14 pm (utc) on Nov. 21, 2006]


 3:25 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

some carrying criminal penalities ( jail time etc )..the UK

Can you post some examples?


 3:32 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

the laws related to "stirring up racial hatred" in the UK are laws carrying such penalties ..as are their counterparts in certain EU countries ..some of which already have the ( proposed ) laws about stirring up religious hatred etc ..they apply to fora ..

this is drifting OT rj87uk..you dont need me to post examples ..just listen and watch and read your own UK media on the subject ..

[edited by: Leosghost at 3:35 pm (utc) on Nov. 21, 2006]


 3:33 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Note that this is a California Supreme Court ruling, and may not yet represent the law of the land. It may need some further testing, too, to determine the limits of protection. Clearly, someone who posts false or defamatory information is still liable... but what if the forum owner somehow aids in the effort? A few examples off the top of my head:

- Forum admin promotes "Example Co. Ripped Me Off!" thread to the home page
- Forum admin creates a topic called, "Example Co. Horror Stories" that encourages members to post their bad experiences.

I think this is a positive development, but I wouldn't assume we are entirely out of the woods.


 3:41 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Speaking as a Moderator in one of the Worlds largest SEO forums - we jump on those posts with an instant 'delete'and PM to poster. I think I speak for many such forums. David


 4:00 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

I actually downloaded the decision last night and popped it into my "emergency reference material to give to my lawyer when I get sued" folder. :)

I've been running user contributed restaurant reviews for just about a year now, and my biggest fear is that someone will say something defamatory about a business and the business will come after me for allowing it to run on my site.

To protect my own rear, I've been disallowing any reviews that describe an event that could be damaging (or a health code violation) that I cannot prove happened -- e.g. a roach in the soup.

I have been allowing general opinions like -- the service was awful, or the waitress was rude -- because it's subjective and can be written off as such.

Even with all of the care I've been taking to not let the users be too offensive, I still get the occasional email from the local CVB telling me I'm the devil for letting people post bad reviews of restaurants.


Can't please everyone... and hopefully now I can at least rest a little easier knowing that the people I've upset can't sue me over it. :)


 6:49 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Thanks for posting this. This is a great relief to many forum owners.


 6:18 am on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

The law in the UK (and other parts of Europe perhaps?) are different from the USA in as much as they don't have the backing of a constitution, Bill of Rights and so on.

But I don't think that there is anything especially 'repressive' about the laws. More a kind of outmoded view of the world that fails to recognise that the internet doesn't work in the same way as the prnt publishing world.

Basically a site owner is responsible for whatever content is 'published' on their site, in the same way as newspaper and magazine publishers and so on. This is regardless as to who has physically 'published' the content.

In the print world in theory, as I understand it, everyone from the writer, editor, owner, printer and newspaper boy who delivers the magazine, is responsible for the distribution of defamatory content.

In practice, however, the courts have a large amount of leway as to the degrees of responsibility and blame that they can attribute (luckily for the newspaper boy). So, as long as they didn't take any negligent steps, it is unlikely that a printer will get much, if any, blame for a defamatory article written in the gossip column of a magazine that they print.

So, for a forum owner who takes 'reasonable' steps to remove illegal content (especially if they have been contacted by an 'offended' party), there is not a huge amount to fear (once again, in theory).

DISCLAIMER: As I say, I'm not a lawyer, so any of the above may be wholly or partially incorrect and I am not in any way responsible for anything at all ever. So please don't sue me. ;)


 8:35 am on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)


I think I am going to sue you for giving out legal information while not qualified!

What you missed is you can sue a US forum owner in the UK (and yes other parts of Europe, but I do not know exactly every country) for libel if they allow a defamatory article to remain (caveat; English High Courts look dimly on libel cases which have failed elsewhere and also it the only possible ultimate protection in a successful English case, given the US courts are unlikely to accept a ruling from another country, is to block the offending web site at the London Internet Exchange). Internet libel laws are much tougher in the UK for sure and as someone who has issues on both sides of the fence, I am not sure either system is right. The problem with the US system is that something clearly false and defamatory can be published there by someone in another country (one with a corrupt or otherwise biased judiciary) where you can not sue them (because they claim personal jurisdiction in that country). In the UK you can sue anyone involved in the libel (although logistics are another thing). What amazes me about US law is that it is impossible to get a defamation removed without suing someone for libel. You can not go to court, provide reasonable doubt as to the legitimacy / accuracy of a published item and if unchallenged get a court order for its removal. So, although I think the US has the right fundemental approach to such issues, I also believe the present protections are too excessive and violate other people's legal rights.

I am a self-appointed judge not a lawyer, please do not sue me.


 11:43 pm on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

The laws related to "stirring up racial hatred" in the UK are laws carrying such penalties ..as are their counterparts in certain EU countries ..some of which already have the ( proposed ) laws about stirring up religious hatred etc ..

What's wrong with that?
Yes, there is a very concerning growth of supressing individual freedom in (Western) Europe but there is also a fully grown up new generation who can't differ between freedom of thought/expression and an insult.
They think they can spit around under the free speech excuses.

This Californian decision however promote freedom in a way of supporting rights of any "intermediary" such as an ISP, to transmit opinions/toughts and even insults, without immediately being liable for the information presented.
It is nice to see some common sense in this sombre time.
However, note that a website, forum, an individual or other internet entity does not have full immunity (rightly) from the common law, contrary to some opinions here and the original Msnbc's conclusion.
I think she (Mrs. Rosenthal) was obliged to remove the defamatory content if asked to do so.
Instead, SHE was sued for defamation.

Anyway, we still only need a fair and unbiased interpretation of the common law(s). Long way to go.


 4:07 pm on Nov 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

May I ask what may appear a stupid question.

I assume this ruling was to cover the publisher?

If I, living in the UK, run a site, which is hosted in the US, and there is a possible liablous post made, am I covered?


 4:36 pm on Nov 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

What's wrong with that?

I'm totally against any form of racial intolerance or abuse or stirring up hatred on those grounds ..all races are equal ..and one doesnt get to choose what colour skin one is born with ..and encoraging racial hatred should be legislated against ..

but religion is a choice of beleif in a fantasy ..and one should be able to comment on the various fantasies of others when they make them public without the law stepping in and saying that some peoples beleifs should not be open to totally frank discussion ..

and various EU laws are trying to confuse race with religion in order to get votes for the so called liberals ..most of whom would do backflips if their kids brought home a non white partner ..

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