Media & Communications Law

Sender Who E-Mailed Links to Blog Post Open to Defamation Claim, Federal Court Rules

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A federal bankruptcy court ruled that sending an e-mail message with a hyperlink to a defamatory blog post can be considered a publication for the purposes of a libel claim.

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.

“That’s sort of akin to someone saying, ‘Go and pick up this book,’ and then that being republication,” Houston media lawyer Robert Latham told the Reporters Committee.

Matt Zimmerman, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Perry could have cited section 230 of the the Communications Decency Act, which states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” He cited the 2006 California Supreme Court decision Barrett v. Rosenthal (PDF posted by Electronic Frontier Foundation), in which a woman who posted articles to which the plaintiffs objected on newsgroup websites because she was not the originator of those publications.

Related coverage:

Holland & Knight Media and Communications Newsletter: “Linking to Blog in Email Treated as ‘Publication’ in Defamation Claim”

San Francisco Bankruptcy Lawyer Blog: “Defamation in Blog Linking”

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