Watch your mouth

Watch your mouth
: Jack Balkin, a real smart lawyer, explains the recent libel decison regarding email lists and blogs. It does not mean you can’t be sued for libel.

What the 9th Circuit held (and what the 4th Circuit also held before them) is that section 230 of the 1996 Telecom Act protects people who run websites from being sued for republishing the libels of another person. Section 230 states that ” no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

This does not mean that bloggers are immune from libels they themselves write. It means that they are immune from (for example) libels published in their comments section (if they have one) because these comments are written by other people and the blogger is merely providing a space for them to be published. Congress wanted to treat operators of chatrooms and other interactive computer services differently from letters to the editor columns in a local newspaper.

So if bloggers defame somebody, they can still be sued for what they say, just not for what someone else who publishes on the blogger’s site says. The Ninth Circuit extends this immunity to people who run e-mail lists and republish the e-mails they receive to the list, even if they edit the e-mails a bit or do not republish every e-mail they receive. That is different from the rules that apply to print journalism. A newspaper is responsible for defamation in letters to the editor or op-ed columns that are published in the newspaper.

: All you blogging attorneys and law professors our there… It would be a tremendous contribution to your community to put up on the web a guide to libel, defamation, copyright, and other legal highlights for bloggers. I’ve worked for newspapers and magazines all my career and have always had the benefit of staff counsel to educate us and to answer our questions. Bloggers could use the wise counsel of you lawyers. Please.

  • Mike G

    Although I never thought that it meant bloggers had carte blanche to libel (which is how Andrew Sullivan, for one, seems to have read it), I thought it was addressed more at the situation of a link– if I link to Drudge and say “Drudge has a story that Sid Blumenthal beats his wife,” that I should not, generally, be held liable for libel for in effect reporting that such a story exists, not the truth of it as such.