California Supreme Court Protects Websites from Libel

November 21, 2006

I just posted about how sites like MySpace and YouTube are being held responsible for whether someone posts copyrighted material they don’t own or control. Now, here comes a ruling in the opposite direction. The California Supreme Court decided yesterday that websites can’t be held liable for libelous statements published on their sites.

It’s a difficult question and the dilemma faced by the jurists is reflected in these comments: “The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications,” Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote in the majority opinion. “Nevertheless … statutory immunity serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended.”

Well, this is California. How I interpret it is that the online culture of free expression overrides the potential damage to individuals when websites publish information they know is libelous. This is very good news for the dedicated reputation terrorist and quite bad news for those involved in blogwars who are hoping for some protection against the most outrageous lies and accusations. My sense is a balance needs to be struck–and this one doesn’t quite do it.


One Response to “California Supreme Court Protects Websites from Libel”

  1. “when websites publish information they know is libelous”

    I don’t think that’s what this ruling protects against. If, for instance, YouTube created and posted content which was libelous, YouTube would still be vulnerable to legal action.

    This ruling protects YouTube if _I_ create and post libelous content and post it on YouTube’s site. Similar protection already exists for copyright infringement.

    Without this kind of protection, it becomes necessary for YouTube to heavily police all of their content for potentially libelous material.

    Generally, for something to be libelous, it must be false (or at least misleading). Without extensive knowledge of the facts surrounding a situation, it would be nearly impossible for YouTube to cost-effectively police content postings.

    The “dedicated reputation terrorist” is still vulnerable to prosecution, provided they can be identified. Whether or not they should be allowed to remain anonymous is an important, but separate issue.

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