Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Linking Defamatory Content Online

A case from Washington state dealt with online defamation from linking defamatory content online.  The court wrestled with the issues of proving defamation online.  The court articulated that the First Amendment freedom speech is to be protected and the courts hold to that as well when it comes to online speech and linking defamatory content.  In the era of the internet, many a customer especially disgruntled ones take to the internet to disparage a business, either for genuine reasons or out of malice.  Alike to the disgruntled patron, is the competitor who uses the medium for its business purposes raising other issues.
The court analyzed the situation of republication of defamatory content in the context of providing a link to a  site that directed the reader to read defamatory content that was about the plaintiff but it was located on another site.  The court held that the linking to a site where the defamatory statement about the plaintiff resided did not constitute ‘republication.’  Even if the Communications Decency Act, Section 230 applied to the case, the court reasoned that under common law, linking defamatory content to a site is not tantamount to “republication” in the context of defamation.
The court weighed the evidence provided by the plaintiff to substantiate the claims.  However, it found the comments to be mere opinions and not provided to be factual in nature.  It determined that though there was a claimed decline in business, the plaintiff did not provide evidence linking the decline to the statements made on the defendant’s site.   Plaintiff also did not provide evidence demonstrating that individuals were influenced to not to do business with plaintiff as a result of the comments made online.  The statements made on social media sites open for public comments may not meet the requisite elements of defamation.
Life Designs Ranch, Inc. v. Sommer, 2015 WL 7015867 (Wash. Ct. App. Nov. 12, 2015)

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