Internet Defamation: A Changing Field of Law

The expansion of the Internet is leading towards an increase in suits for defamation, as more people are able to freely publish their opinions on the Internet and reach a worldwide audience.

A claim for defamation involves an untrue statement that damages a person’s reputation. Defamation in written or printed form is categorized as libel, while defamation involving oral statements is categorized as slander.

The elements required for a defamation claim come under question in light of the expansion of the Internet because the Internet gives the average consumer broad freedom to post opinions regarding, among others, people, corporations, events, and politics. Furthermore, the nature of the Internet allows worldwide exposure of a common consumer’s opinion, and such a posting may remain on the Internet almost endlessly. Furthermore, since most controversial cyber-postings are anonymous, parties wishing to pursue an Internet defamation claim face the unique obstacle of identifying the party that caused the harm.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 and subsequent case law further redefined Internet defamation claims. Specifically, according to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, generally Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) can no longer be liable for information or defamatory statements that users publish online. However, ISPs may be required to remove defamatory content from websites under a court order and provide identification information for any individuals responsible for the publication.
Perhaps most noteworthy, it is important to remember that an Internet defamation claim is subject to a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations determines how long a plaintiff has to bring a suit. Different jurisdictions have different time spans regarding how long a party has to bring suit. A claim is null and void once the period specified in the respective jurisdiction runs out. Generally, in the case of Internet defamation claims, the period of time begins to run once the defamatory posting first appears online.

In an Internet defamation case in 2006, a court awarded a woman $11.3 million over a posting that accused the woman of being a “crook, ” a “con artist,” and a “fraud.” In a more recent defamation case, a court award a couple over $13 million for a couple who sued an anonymous commentator who accused them of various deviant behavior.

At the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh, we guide California consumers and businesses in matters related to the Internet and Cyberspace by using legal knowledge and skills to create solutions for our clients. Please contact us today online or at (310) 694-3034 to set up a confidential consultation.