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US Court Expands Blogger Immunity

The California Supreme Court has ruled that individuals - such as bloggers - who use the Internet to distribute information from another source may not be held to account if the material is considered defamatory. This is a reversal of a previous lower court decision. The ruling supports federal law that clears individuals of liability if they transmit, but are not the source of, defamatory information. It expands protections the law gives to Internet service providers to include bloggers and activist Web sites.

'We acknowledge that recognizing broad immunity for defamatory republication on the Internet has some troubling consequences,' California's high court justices said in their opinion. 'Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area, however, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement,' the decision stated.

The opinion, written by Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, addressed a lawsuit by two doctors who claimed defendant Ilena Rosenthal and others distributed emails and Internet postings that republished statements the doctors said impugned their character and competence. Rosenthal, who operates a San Diego-based Web site known as the Humantics Foundation, had countered that her statements were protected speech and immune under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It holds 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.'

A California appeals court had ruled that Internet service providers and users could be held liable if they republish a statement if it is known to be defamatory.

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