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Thursday, July 03, 2003

Jack Balkin on Batzel (LazyBlawg)

Jack Balkin has a great summary of the 9th Circuit's recent Batzel decision (PDF) and its implications for bloggers:

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.

Jeff Jarvis rightly tells blogging attorneys and law professors, "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." Too true. I'd be happy to take part in such a project, but fear that in order for it to truly shine we'd need to find a coordinator who works for someone like IBM (see Tim Bray's discussion of Sam Ruby's work on Echo). In the meantime, at least it now can be said there are hundreds of blawgers out there, with a broad range of legal expertise, who help shed light on these sorts of issues post by post. That wasn't the case just a couple of years ago.

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