The California Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday of Barrett v. Rosenthal, which grants immunity to those who repost defamatory material on the Internet, is giving bloggers around the country a sense of both relevance and security. The unanimous decision upheld the 1996 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.” The ruling reaffirms that bloggers will be held to a different, albeit lower, standard than print and broadcast media.
Reactions among bloggers range from expressions of triumph to blasé indifference.
“This is an absolutely crucial decision, and it will reverberate for years to come,” writes Dan Gillmor at the Center for Citizen Media blog.
“I was just asked by a local radio station about this case, and the tenor of the questions suggested, at one point, that perhaps it was unfair to hold newspapers and broadcasters to a different, sterner standard. Not at all, I said: The point of the law was to encourage broad conversation where editing everything would be prohibitively difficult. Journalists have trouble with this …”
Justin Levine, blogging at Patterico’s Pontifications, revels in the apparent victory: “As you might expect, I’m delighted with the decision. Broad immunities from defamation claims are an absolute necessity if you wish to have a robust Internet culture. Sometimes legal compromises are constrained by the nature of the technology before us. Either you will embrace true Internet freedoms and all the wondrous possibilities it has brought in the last decade, or you will encourage a world where what you can publish will ultimately be dictated by how much financial and legal resources your subject has access to.”
Others felt that the decision relegated bloggers to the journalistic “kid’s table.”
“You can call this California decision a great victory for free speech on the Internet,” writes Jules Crittenden, a Boston Herald city editor and columnist. “Or you can call it condescending. Anyone who publishes a book, a magazine, a newspaper or a mimeographed newsletter in this country is subject to libel laws. We try to practice caution in my business. The lawyers have told me in the past that while wire service customers are protected from being sued over wire material, adopting someone else’s libel does not give protection simply because someone else published it first. Free speech is great, but with it comes responsibility. A lot of responsibility. As some in my profession could tell you, hundreds of thousands of dollars and people’s reputations worth of responsibility. So, is this a legal diaper for California bloggers?”
Conservative blogger and journalist Michelle Malkin detects a contradiction: “Many of my friends and colleagues in the blogosphere see the decision as a triumph for Internet free speech … But aren’t bloggers the ones arguing that we should be treated like MSM journalists? Isn’t that what the Apple vs. bloggers case was all about? Remember? Seems to me that some bloggers want to enjoy the benefits of MSM status (fighting for the same coverage as traditional journalists under shield laws, as in the Apple case), but avoid the consequences (getting sued if they republish defamatory material online).”
And for those who are left wondering what new freedoms the California ruling will afford them, kentuckyliz, commenting, at the National Journal’s Beltway Blogroll, has all the answers: