Court Ruling Protects Bloggers from Lawsuits

Freedom of speech, how sweet the sound.

Bloggers and website owners cannot be sued for posting libelous or defamatory comments written by third parties, the California Supreme Court has ruled. The court said only the original authors of comments published online can be sued.

Legal analysts say the 34-page decision, issued Monday, is significant because it brings California in line with other court rulings across the nation that have upheld the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act, which protects website owners from legal liability in libel or defamation lawsuits.

“Bloggers and website owners can all breathe a very big sigh of relief,” says Gregory Herbert, an Orlando lawyer who specializes in First Amendment issues. “This decision adds more uniformity to the law and reduces the risk for liability for even individuals who are posting things onto website message boards and chat rooms.”

Let’s also not forget that, as Michelle Malkin knows all too well, it’s all fun and games until you’re the target of the defamation. She points out that this decision seems to have a very big loophole:

Strictly speaking, Barrett v. Rosenthal applies only to those who re-publish defamatory statements. It does not apply to the author of the original defamatory post. Anyone who wants to immunize himself from liability, however, can easily bypass that limitation by posting the original defamatory statement anonymously (for example, from a public library or Kinko’s or by using an anonymizer such as Torpark) then re-publishing it under his or her own name. Those savvy enough to game the system in this way will be able to libel their enemies with impunity.

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