Terrible Ruling: Forwarding A Link Can Be Considered Defamation
from the section-230-anyone? dept
One of the more famous cases that helped establish a key aspect of caselaw around Section 230 safeharbors was the famous Barrett v. Rosenthal case that established that posting a missive written by someone else, even if that writeup was libelous, did not make the reposter liable, since they were not the ones who created the content. That case is cited regularly in defamation cases involving forwarded material. Apparently, a federal bankruptcy court in Texas was either unaware of this ruling or decided it didn’t apply. KnownHuman points us to the news that the bankruptcy court found that just forwarding a link to defamatory material can be considered defamation. This is even less than what happened in the Rosenthal case, where the content was reposted. Here, there were just emails with the link, not the content, and the court found that they were effectively republishing the content.
While the case before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas revolved around William Perry’s bankruptcy proceedings, the court relied on Texas law to determine that e-mail messages Perry sent linking to websites that made false and defamatory statements about Sugar Land, Texas, mayor David Wallace met the “actual malice” standard a public official needs to bring a defamation claim, according to the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.
Perry only included the links to the posts, which he did not write, in the e-mail–none of his own comments. He was found to have made some comments orally about how the blog might affect Wallace’s career.
The article quotes someone from the EFF, which suggests that Perry didn’t even raise a Section 230 defense, which would be unfortunate, if true.
This is a horrible ruling in so many ways. Think about the possible impact. How many times do people pass around links via email, Facebook, Twitter or some other method? Based on this ruling, if a particular article is found to be defamatory, everyone who passed along a link to that article may now be open to liability for the defamation in the article. That’s downright scary.