The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Tuesday that Web loggers, website operators and e-mail list editors can't be held responsible for libel for information they republish, extending crucial First Amendment protections to do-it-yourself online publishers.
This is really good news. A forum I run has occasionally had comments on semi-scam businesses, i.e., ones that don't break any laws but tend to prey on gullible people. I've never lost much sleep over the posts critical of these operations, but this is a welcome ruling.
This has big implications for Public Relations professionals as well. In the past, it has been standard to send the legal team after a site that had false information - even if that information was printed somewhere else. This means that the PR professional will not have to create a beneficial relationship with the Blogger or Webmaster in order to counteract this type of thing - which is very good news for me!
However - the supreme court only hears about 100 cases a year - and I don't see this being one of them, but I could be wrong...
Those stats may be a little one sided :
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower courts in 75% of the cases it decided. The 9th Circuit was reversed 76% of the time, which is almost identical to the national average. In contrast, the 2d Circuit, the 3d Circuit (albeit in only one case) and the 11th Circuit were reversed 100% of the time; the 6th Circuit was reversed 88% of the time; and the 8th Circuit was reversed 80% of the time.