Libel

This section covers the state law governing libel suits. The standards governing such suits are influenced by many things, including whether the subject of a story is a public figure or public official. This also covers the defenses to libel suits, including the "fair report" privilege, the opinion defense and anti-SLAPP laws.

Do we have a right to online anonymity?

It depends on which judge you ask
Commentary
Page Number: 
9

The Edward Snowden leaks have forced Americans to question whether the government monitors their online activities. But intelligence gathering is not the only government threat to Internet privacy: plaintiffs in defamation cases are using court subpoenas to attempt to unmask Internet users’ identities.

In some seedy corners of the Internet, commenters use the veil of anonymity to utter vulgar, false, and damaging comments that they likely would never write if their names were attached. Some defamation victims file lawsuits to mitigate the harm to their reputations. Before they can collect damages, they must identify the defendant, and they typically accomplish this by issuing a subpoena to the defendant’s Internet Service Provider, seeking the defendant’s name and address.

Libel immunity up in the air?

The U.S. Supreme Court reiterates that the New York Times "actual malice" standard requires materially false statements
Commentary
Page Number: 
10

On Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed a $1.2 million Colorado defamation verdict in the case of Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper — a notable decision for a court that rarely accepts libel cases. The Court interpreted an immunity provision of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) but it had much to say about the proper application of the actual malice standard set forth in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

Bloggers and the 'institutional press'

Online writers have the same defamation protections on matters of public concern
Feature
Page Number: 
8
Cindy Gierhart

The Ninth Circuit ruled on Jan. 17 in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox that bloggers -- and other members of the public -- are governed by the same decades-old defamation jurisprudence as the "institutional press” when speaking about matters of public concern.

Crystal Cox wrote blog posts alleging a bankruptcy trustee and his company committed fraud, corruption, and money-laundering. The trustee, Kevin Padrick, and company, Obsidian Finance Group, sued for defamation.

One question before the court was whether the New York Times v. Sullivan and Gertz v. Robert Welch line of cases applied to Cox, as a blogger, or whether the rules set forth under those cases only applied to the “institutional press.”

Ohio Attorney General argues against state election-related speech law in U.S. Supreme Court

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | March 5, 2014
News
March 5, 2014

The Ohio Attorney General argued against its own election-related speech law in a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

In Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether two organizations can challenge an Ohio law that makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements about a candidate for office or ballot proposition.

Rather than defend the law, the Ohio Attorney General admitted it “raise[s] a number of potential constitutional issues.”

Defamation verdict in Air Wisconsin case vacated by Supreme Court

Michael Rooney | Libel | News | January 27, 2014
News
January 27, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled today in Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper that airlines cannot be held liable for reporting safety threats to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if the report was essentially true, even if some details were false. The Court held that airlines would not be stripped of the statutory immunity from civil suits under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) for reporting such safety threats.

Ninth Circuit: Bloggers, public have same defamation protections as 'institutional press' on matters of public concern

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | January 17, 2014
News
January 17, 2014

The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox that bloggers -- and other members of the public -- are governed by the same decades-old defamation jurisprudence as the "institutional press” when speaking about matters of public concern.

Crystal Cox wrote blog posts alleging a bankruptcy trustee and his company committed fraud, corruption, and money-laundering. The trustee, Kevin Padrick, and company, Obsidian Finance Group, sued for defamation.

One question before the court was whether the New York Times v. Sullivan and Gertz v. Robert Welch line of cases applied to Cox, as a blogger, or whether the rules set forth under those cases only applied to the “institutional press.”

Dismissal of suit under Texas anti-SLAPP law affirmed on appeal

Michael Rooney | Libel | News | January 14, 2014
News
January 14, 2014

A Texas court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of a libel suit under the Texas Citizen Participation Act today, finding that the plaintiff could not establish the basic elements of his defamation claim.

In October 2012, police officer Dennis Walker filed a defamation suit against Larry Schion, who accused him of theft and using his police cruiser for personal use, among other allegations of misconduct. However, according to Schion’s attorney Michael Fleming, the lawsuit had less to do with defamation and was in fact an attempt to dissuade Schion from speaking out against him.

Virginia Supreme Court rules for newspaper in libel case

Michael Rooney | Libel | News | January 14, 2014
News
January 14, 2014

The Virginia Supreme Court has upheld a decision throwing out a libel verdict against The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.

The justices unanimously ruled that the paper did not libel Phillip Webb after it reported that Webb’s son was not disciplined by the school system stemming from a physical altercation. Webb was an assistant principal at a different high school in the same school system.

At trial, Webb asserted that the 2009 story suggested that the son received special treatment due to Webb's role as an assistant principal in that school system. For this, a jury awarded Webb $3 million in damages.

New York appellate court allows blogger to remain anonymous, dismisses defamation claim

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | January 8, 2014
News
January 8, 2014

A New York appellate court ruled that a blogger may remain anonymous, thereby preventing a political candidate from bringing a defamation suit against him or her.

The blogger, known as “Q-Tip,” wrote an article titled “Would You Buy A Used Car From These Men?,” which said the candidates “think you aren’t smart enough to see past the lies and downright criminal actions taken by their backers, the Croton Republican Committee.”

The court held on Dec. 26 that a reasonable reader, given the context of the blog and the contentious election, would conclude these statements reflected the blogger’s opinion, not fact.

Virginia court rules that Yelp must name seven anonymous reviewers

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | January 7, 2014
News
January 7, 2014

The Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled today that Yelp must reveal the identity of seven pseudonymous reviewers so that a company may sue them for defamation.

Hadeed Carpet Cleaning received numerous negative reviews on Yelp, and it singled out seven reviewers that it suspects were never actually customers. The company brought a defamation claim against them, subpoenaing Yelp for their identities. Yelp refused to disclose their identities.

Attorneys for Yelp argued that the Virginia court should adopt what is known as the Dendrite standard, followed in several other states, which requires those claiming defamation to provide sufficient evidence to support that claim before the court will force anonymous speakers to reveal their identities.