Judge Recognizes The Obvious: Printer Shouldn't Be Liable For A Book It Prints

from the putting-liability-where-it-belongs dept

Just last week we wrote about the Republican National Committee suing CafePress for selling t-shirt designs from users that include RNC trademarks (the "GOP" phrase and the RNC's elephant). Even though the RNC has backed down, CafePress may be happy to hear that a ruling in a different case seems to support the idea that CafePress shouldn't be liable. Eric Goldman points us to quite a series of lawsuits up in Maine between two families. Apparently, the daughters of the families were once friends in high school but had something of... er... a falling out. Take your average "former best friends" dispute and multiply it by about 100. This one involved both girls getting expelled and one eventually being convicted of a hate crime against the other.

The family of the convicted girl believe they've been wronged, and began a publicity campaign in their own favor. Part of this campaign involved a self-published book telling their side of the story. They tried to find a publisher for it, but publishers (wisely, from the sound of it) wanted no part of it. So, instead, they used a print-on-demand publisher. The other family, of course, sued everyone involved for defamation, including the print-on-demand company, BookSurge.

Without even using section 230 of the CDA, BookSurge has been let off the hook in the case, as the judge noted that it made no sense to include them in the case:
Because BookSurge does not undertake to edit, review or fact-check any of its publications, it has no means or way of knowing whether defamatory material is contained within the works that it publishes. BookSurge maintained no editorial control over the works published. The responsibilities of BookSurge, which are known to the authors of the works, indicate that it is not an active participant in the creation of any defamation.
This fits with what we've always said about section 230 of the CDA. Even if it didn't exist, it makes legal sense simply not to allow lawsuits against a mere middleman for the actions of an end user. It's nice to see the court recognize that here.

Filed Under: liability, print on demand


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  1. identicon
    DanC, 25 Jul 2008 @ 7:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Willful Blindness

    Do you have any basis for that claim?

    Yep. I didn't include a link in my original comment because at the time I could only find references to the actual source in various blogs. I've since found it.

    The concept of willful blindness, or deliberate ignorance, is based on the Model Penal Code, section 2.02 (7), which states that:

    "Requirement of Knowledge Satisfied by Knowledge of High Probability. When knowledge of the existence of a particular fact is an element of an offense, such knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of its existence, unless he actually believes that it does not exist."

    I was also able to locate jury instructions from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for United States v. Whitehill:

    "A willful blindness instruction is appropriate when the defendant asserts a lack of guilty knowledge, but the evidence supports an inference of deliberate ignorance." United States v. Gruenberg, 989 F.2d 971, 974 (8th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). Ignorance is deliberate if the defendants were presented with facts putting them on notice criminal activity was particularly likely and yet intentionally failed to investigate."

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