Internet users and providers cannot be held liable for posting defamatory material written by someone else, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday.
"The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications," Justice Carol Corrigan wrote for the court. But, she added, immunity "serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation."
The court explained that Internet defamation law differs from that of other media.
"Book, newspaper or magazine publishers are liable for defamation on the same basis as authors," Corrigan wrote. "Book sellers, news vendors or other 'distributors' … may only be held liable if they knew or had reason to know of a publication's defamatory content."
Congress "chose to protect even the most active Internet publishers, those who take an aggressive role in republishing third-party content," she wrote.
She said the threat of liability also would reduce the flow of ideas on the Internet. "The volume and range of Internet communications make the 'heckler's veto' a real threat," Corrigan said.
The defendant, Ilene Rosenthal of the Humantics Foundation, blogs here. The case was brought by the erstwhile thugs known as the Quackbusters.
Here is EFF's FAQ on Online Defamation.
Wikipedia entry on the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
* Discussion @ /.
UPDATE: Comprehensive coverage of blogger reaction to the Barrett v. Rosenthal decision at CJR.