Big Win for Free Speech for Bloggers/Web Posters in Court

In a major victory for bloggers, forum participants and Web publishers, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday that individuals cannot be held liable for publishing defamatory statements written by others.

“Subjecting Internet service providers and users to defamation liability would tend to chill online speech,” the unanimous ruling said.

The ruling clarifies that a 1996 law, the Communications Decency Act, protects not only content providers, but also users of online services who republish content.

By passing that law, Congress “has comprehensively immunized republication by individual Internet users,” intending “to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation,” the majority of justices concluded.

They acknowledged that “recognizing broad immunity for defamatory republications on the Internet has some troubling consequences” — but unless Congress revises the law, anyone who claims to be defamed by an Internet posting may seek damages only from the “original source of the statement.”

The case stems from 2000, when two doctors who operated Web sites devoted to exposing health frauds sued the founder of a newsgroup for women who have had problems with breast implants.