As the internet has exploded with millions of blogs and people who comment…the question arises as to whether or not you can sue someone for a comment hurting your feelings, or worse, damaging your reputation.
The quick answer is…it depends. Yeah. Welcome to the law.
Interestingly enough, the The Federalist Papers, penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, were published under the pseudonym “Publius.” So even way back when, critics were anonymous.
So, there’s an interesting case in federal court where one guy (Max) wrote about another guy’s (Dimeo) event party…and then other people ripped the party apart, basically saying the party sucked. Several of the comments were anonymous. So, Dimeo sued Max for defamation, citing those anonymous comments by other people. The court didn’t buy it. Dimeo lost on the defamation claim because, well, Max is like Google. Yeah, Google.
Interestingly enough, the court used the same analysis with Max as it did with the large GOOGLE case I cited a few weeks back. (Parker v. Google). Max is like Google??? Well, under a CDA (Communications Decency Act) analysis, Max is like Google and thus gets immunity.
Three elements are required for § 230(c)(1) immunity. First, the defendant must be a provider or user of an “interactive computer service.” Second, the asserted claims must treat the defendant as a publisher or speaker of information. Third, the challenged communication must be “information provided by another information content provider. (The commenters). Dimeo v Max, 433 F.Supp.2d 523 (E.D.Pa.,2006).
So, at least in the federal district court in PA, Max (and thus any of us with a website) has the same immunity as Google when it comes to third party comments. Wozza.
I thought this was an interesting way for the court to finish its opinion.
“Some of the dialogue on the Internet surely tests the limits of conventional discourse. Speech on the Internet can be unfiltered, unpolished, and unconventional, even emotionally charged, sexually explicit, and vulgar-in a word, “indecent” in many communities. But we should expect such speech to occur in a medium in which citizens from all walks of life have a voice.” Dimeo at 533.
So, keep in mind this is one federal district court opinion only. There are many other jurisdictions, and this case didn’t go up to the appellate or supreme court.
When I get some time, I’d like to delve into the CDA, considering some of it (not any of the parts cited above) have been found unconstitutional. For now, let’s be nice as commenters. While our words MAY not be actionable, there are still several federal laws dealing with harassment we really don’t want to mess with. I’ll go into a few of those at a later date.
DISCLAIMER: So, I’ve been getting more comments about my disclaimer than the blog entries. 🙂 No, the mermaid isn’t naked. Yes, she has a shield and sword because the law is both a shield and a sword. In a disclaimer, it’s a shield. A big one that I’ll hit you over the head with if you take anything I say as legal advice. Yeah, I’m being accurate. But I’m not your lawyer. This is not intended to be legal advice. You may not rely on any of it (except me hitting you with the shield) as legal advice. For the love of Pete – there are tons of starving lawyers out there. Go hire one if you need one. 🙂