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Pro Blogger Ruling Helps Wikipedia
February 25, 2007
Thomas Mennecke
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There was a monumental, albeit widely overlooked, court ruling in November of 2006 that greatly enhanced First Amendment rights online. Until that point, ISPs, bloggers, online journalists, and other Internet mediums could potentially be sued for the content posted by third parties - as was the situation in this case. However, this burden of responsibility was struck down by a California Federal Court.

In the ruling, the California Court of Appeals ruled there was a distinction between primary publishers and secondary distributors, the difference being those who had control over published content and those who did not. Therefore, an online website cannot be sued for libel or defamation for any republication of news articles, forum posts, or any other content that does not originate from the publication. This is in stark contrast from Canadian law, where P2P news site p2pnet.net was indeed sued for publication of third-party content.

The court in this case was not without its reservations.

“We acknowledge that recognizing broad immunity for defamatory republications on the Internet has some troubling consequences. Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area, however, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement.”

Pro golfer Fuzzy Zoeller's defamation and libel suit is the first highly publicized case that is a direct result of this ruling. Zoeller contends there was libelous material posted on the Wikipedia entry for his name, which included references to drug use, abuse of Alcohol and his family. Helped by the November ruling, Wikipedia cannot be sued by Zoeller. Instead, he is forced to sue the IP address of the individual’s posting, which originates from “ Josef Silny & Associates, a Miami education consulting firm.”

These events are an important reaffirmation of First Amendment rights online, and a reminder to use a proxy when posting online.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Legal/Courtroom :: Other Lawsuits

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