Liability Issues Return Concerning Online Posts

from the wait-a-second... dept 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.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Liability Issues Return Concerning Online Posts”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
nonuser says:

semi-private, semi-public spaces vanishing

When the student submitted the paper it was arguably private between him and the professor. OK, the papers get discussed in class so they are made public, but only to a very limited group of people. One or two of those folk might turn around and tell juicy stories to the Kitty Kellys of the world, but aren’t likely to cause much damage. But once the prof posted the paper to the web as part of the class materials, and google’s bot found it, it became universally public and part of the permanent record associated with Ben-Tech (a little known entity with unfortunately not enough web references to hide this one).

I think the professor does have some responsibility to vet the facts in the paper, because it was submitted to him in a semi-private setting by a student (not by a professional journalist to his editor, for example). The student is his protege. This is different from simply forwarding an email to a mailing list of co-workers.

Steve Mueller (user link) says:


I’m sorry, but there’s no way this is libel. My understanding of libel is that it requires three (maybe four) aspects.

  1. It must be untrue. The old saying is that the truth is a complete defense.
  2. It must be malicious. If there’s an absence of malice, it’s not libel.
  3. It must have damaged the other party.
  4. There must be financial losses.

I don’t see how the professor (or the student, for that matter) could be found guilty because there doesn’t seem like there was any malicious intent.

Of course, I’m not a lawyer….

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...