- Barrett v. Rosenthal
"Barrett v. Rosenthal" [40 Cal.4th 33, 146 P.3d 510, 51 Cal.Rptr.3d 55 (Cal. Sup. Ct., Nov. 20, 2006).] is a 2006
California Supreme Courtcase concerning Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.Supreme Court of the State of California, Alameda County, "Barrett v. Rosenthal: Court Opinion", Ct.App. 1/2 A096451. [http://casp.net/cases/RosenthalSC.html available online] ] It is an appeal of "Barrett v. Clark", a defamation claim brought by Stephen Barrett, Terry Polevoy, and attorney Christopher Grell against Ilena Rosenthal and several others. They were accused of libel and conspiracy to libel, for publishing or republishing allegedly defamatory statements on the internet. All but one of the statements republished by Rosenthal were determined by the lower courts to be non-defamatory opinion. The sole issue in "Barrett v. Rosenthal" was whether or not Rosenthal was liable for rebroadcasting one statement which accused Polevoy of stalking. In a unanimous decision, the court held that defendantIlena Rosenthal, a "user of interactive computer services", was immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Lower court rulings
At issue in "Barrett v. Clark" was an e-mail sent by Tim Bolen, a publicist for
alternative medicinepractitioners, that attacked Barrett and Polevoy, medical doctors who publicly criticize what they consider quackery. The defendants had published or republished the e-mail on the internet.California Superior Court, Alameda County, "Barrett v. Clark: Order Granting Defendant's Special Motion to Strike", 2001 WL 881259, 2001 Extra LEXIS 46. [http://www.casp.net/cases/barrett.html available online] ] The trial court dismissed the case (against Rosenthal only) under the California anti-SLAPP statute, which is intended to stop lawsuits that are "brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for redress of grievances," though it has later allowed the case to continue against her co-defendants. The court further ordered that all three plaintiffs pay Rosenthal's attorney's fees.
The appellate court upheld the dismissal against Grell and Barrett, but vacated the decision as against Polevoy. The court held that Section 230 did not protect Rosenthal for one statement she had reposted on two newsgroups, regarding Polevoy's alleged "stalking" of a Canadian talk show host. The court ruled that Rosenthal, as a "distributor", could be held liable under Section 230 for content republished after receiving notice of a potentially defamatory statement, just as vendors of traditional media can be.
Rosenthal petitioned the California Supreme Court to hear the case, and the court granted a "writ of certiorari" to review the case in April, 2004. [Supreme Court of the State of California, "Barrett v. Clark: Petition for Review" [http://www.casp.net/cases/sc_pet1.html available online] ]
California Supreme Court decision
The California Supreme Court overturned the lower court in November, 2006, in a
landmark decisionthat is the first to interpret Section 230 defamation immunity as providing immunity to an individual internet "user" who is not a provider. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a number of internet corporations — including Yahoo!, and AOL— filed briefs on behalf of the defendant, [" [http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/northern_california/15446330.htm California justices frown on Internet libel lawsuits] " by David Kravets (Associated Press), September 5, 2006. Accessed November 25, 2006.] [ [http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/Barrett_v_Rosenthal/20041124_BarrettAmicusFinal.pdf Brief of "Amici Curiae"] ] arguing that only the originator of a defamatory statement published on the internet could be held liable.
In the majority opinion, Justice Corrigan observed that the plain language of Section 230 shows that "Congress did not intend for an internet user to be treated differently than an internet provider." Both had immunity from liability for the republication of defamatory content on the internet.
The court agreed that "subjecting Internet service providers and users to defamation liability would tend to chill online speech." (citing "Zeran v. America Online, Inc." (4th Cir. 1997) 129 F.3d 327, 331-333). Moreover, the court agreed with Rosenthal in the interpretation of congressional intent:
The congressional intent of fostering free speech on the internet supported the extension of Section 230 immunity to active individual users. It is they who provide much of the 'diversity of political discourse,' the pursuit of 'opportunities for cultural development,' and the exploration of 'myriad avenues for intellectual activity' that the statute was meant to protect.
However, the court also acknowledged that blanket immunity for the redistribution of defamatory statements on the Internet has "disturbing implications." Although Plaintiffs are free under Section 230 to sue the originator of a defamatory Internet publication, "any further expansion of liability must await Congressional action."
In a concurring opinion, Justice Carlos Moreno also suggested that immunity would not extend to an online publisher or distributor who conspires with an original content provider to defame. However, in this case, there was provided no proof of a conspiracy to defame.
Slander and libel
* [http://www.law.berkeley.edu/institutes/bclt/about/about_news_11-21-06.htm Justices hand victory to free speech online] - Howard Mintz,
San Jose Mercury News
* [http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1164103520282 Calif. Supreme Court Shields Web Republishers] - Jessie Seyfer, Law.com
* [http://news.com.com/How+Web+providers+dodged+a+big+legal+bullet/2010-1030_3-6144464.html How Web providers dodged a big legal bullet] - Eric J. Sinrod,
* [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/06/BAG9BL01791.DTL High court justices sound cool toward Internet libel case] - Bob Egelko,
San Francisco Chronicle
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