News.com is running an interesting article about a libel lawsuit against a business professor who posted a student's essay to the web to start a discussion. The problem was that the essay detailed the story from one of his students talking about how a company, Ben-Tech, had allegedly pushed him to take confidential materials from Siemens, where he was employed at the time. While posting the paper to the internet was mainly for class discussion only, Google found it, and that helped Ben-Tech find it, and decide that it was libelous. A lower court said that the professor was not at fault, but an appeals court has overturned that decision, claiming that, especially as a lawyer, the professor should have read the paper more closely and recognized the risk. While the case, on its own, is interesting, it completely contradicts another ruling that got a lot of attention last year, saying that simply passing on or posting online information from a third party does not make the messenger guilty of libel. That case was in the 9th Circuit, and the Supreme Court turned down an appeal. However, with some more rulings that contradict each other, the Supreme Court may be more interested in stepping in. Meanwhile, it looks like Ben-Tech is also learning about the Streisand Effect, where trying to get this story taken offline is only getting it much more attention than it ever would have received if they had just left it alone.
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