In recent years, the law of defamation and the Internet has come under scrutiny. This is mainly due to the fact that the Internet gives the average Joe an opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions well beyond the limits of any previous venues. With the Internet an individual can now publish a single statement, a news item or an article and it can be seen around the globe instantly. This is without someone doing any fact checking or anything of that nature. From that moment on, this item will be there for the world to see. It is nearly impossible to get it removed or amended even if the facts are not accurate.

Before we get into Internet defamation we need to be sure that we have an accurate understanding of what constitutes defamation. The following is what the legal aspects of defamation are:

  • A defamatory or false statement regarding another person or business entity
  • Publication of that statement to a third party
  • Negligence on the part of the statement issuer to ascertain the veracity of the defamatory statement before issuing it
  • Damages incurred by the subject of the statement as a direct result of the defamatory statement

Internet Defamation Law

A large question regarding defamation on the Internet is whether it is to be considered as libel, slander or both. Until recently, defamation on Internet websites was considered libel. However, with the recent explosion of podcasts and video sites such as YouTube popping up all over the place, slander has become a feasible option under the law. The thing is, when discussing whether a charge of Internet defamation of character should be considered one or the other is not nearly as important as determining whether or not the activity fits the aspects of defamation itself.

Defamation, Internet wise can actually be much worse than regular defamation because it goes so much farther and is accessible for anyone at any time.

Recently, there was a case filed in New York involving a blogger. The blogger (PZ Myers) did a review on a book written by a scientist by the name of Dr. Stuart Pivar. Myers said that Dr. Pivar was a “classic crackpot” in the review. Pivar took exception to that and filed a lawsuit claiming the following:

  • Removal of the statement from the Internet
  • An injunction blocking any further possible libel
  • $5 million in damages for damage to business relations
  • $10 million in damages for emotional distress, defamation and loss of reputation

This particular lawsuit perfectly illustrates the libelous damages, cause and effect in a proper case that is based on defamation and the Internet. In other words, it is a prime example that answers the question “What is internet defamation?”

Suing a Blog for Defamation

Considering the first amendment and free speech, this can be quite a tricky issue. When it comes to blogs, not every blog owner writes their own material. There are ghostwriters, guest writers and even just freelance writers who get hired to make all of the blog posts.

If a blog has a post on it that is considered to be defamatory and the owner of the blog did not write it then the blog owner cannot be held responsible for that defamation. The writer however, can be. There is actually a law to this effect. It is called the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and it specifically protects blog owners. As far as the Supreme Court goes, they said that in the context of the laws regarding defamation, the rights of any type of institutional media are no less and no greater than those rights that are enjoyed by other organizations and individuals that engage in the same type of activities.

Identifying the perpetrators of defamation occurring on blogs is not so easy though. Many times inflammatory remarks that could be considered libelous are left as anonymous comments. Until there is a law that allows for finding the identity of these people, this is a huge loophole in regards to Internet defamation.

At times, these cases are won. For example, a case in 2006 awarded $11.6 million to a woman named Sue Scheff in Florida. She filed a suit claiming defamation of character on the Internet that was perpetrated by a woman from Louisiana who had posted messages saying that Scheff was a con artist and a fraud. The jury in the case found that the charges were false so Scheff won her case. It is a good thing that she didn’t take the offered settlement before the actual court date as the settlement that was offered was for only $35,000.

If you feel that you have been victimized by internet defamation then you need to seek the advice of an attorney who deals with this type of thing as soon as possible. While what goes on the Internet is on there forever, the statute of limitations for filing a suit does not.










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About the Author

Lane Houk is a recognized internet marketing and reputation expert. Lane regularly speaks to business owners of all types about online reputation management and marketing and why it is imperative for professionals and companies to pro-actively manage their online reputation and take immediate steps if/when someone posts a negative review or worse, lies, about you or your company online. Online defamation can have devastating effects on your business and your professional career.

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