Free Speech On The Internet

CBS5 (San Francisco)

The California Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in San Francisco Tuesday on whether someone who posts a defamatory comment by another person on the Internet can be sued for libel.

Two civil liberties groups say the court's eventual ruling, due in three months, could have far-reaching implications for free speech on the Internet.

While the case before the court concerns individuals-a Canadian doctor seeking to sue a women's health activist for posting a third person's comment about him-the court's ruling could also determine whether Internet service providers can be held liable when they knowingly allow defamatory remarks to be posted. (emphasis added) Read on...

In the interest of disclosure, I have to say that I have a connection to this case that makes me less than impartial (and no, I'm not an involved party) and requires me to be circumspect about some information.

While the Court has agreed to hear this case on the very narrow, specific issue (whether the libelous statement is factually true is considered tangential to the issue before the Court), this could have an absolutely chilling effect on bloggers--to be held liable for libel for reposting a third party's words--which is why the EFF, AOL, EBay and Amazon have submitted amicus briefs, defending the right of Internet service providers.

I know that many of us (myself included) have come to rely on blogs to help us get and/or make sense of the news of the day. Although I rarely comment, I get a lot out of the comments made here at C&L, often finding links that help enhance my understanding of events. How much knowledge and information would we miss if sites like C&L had to be wary of potential liability from your posts?

It's a very scary thought.

The Court's decision should be handed down within 90 days.


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