So-called "bump messages" — new comments made to older messages in order to move them back up to prominent positions on a Web site and keep a conversation alive — do not count as republication in the libel context, a New York judge wrote in an opinion last week.
“One of the unique characteristics of the Internet is that it allows for the ‘dissemination of information and ideas’ on a global scale,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Herman Cahn. (The Supreme Court is the trial-level court in New York.) Considering bump messages to be a type of republication, he said, “would have a ‘serious inhibitory effect’ on this form of communication.”
Cahn said bump messages appropriately fall under the single-publication rule governing other periodicals in New York: No matter how widely circulated a magazine or newspaper may be, if it prints a defamatory statement in one issue it can only be held liable for one act of publication.
The ruling came in a dispute that arose out of an underlying case in which Admission Consultants Inc., a firm focused on helping prospective college and graduate students with their applications, claimed it was the subject of defamatory remarks in the "B-Schools" forum on Business Week‘s Web site.
A judge last year ordered McGraw Hill Publishing Co., Business Week’s publisher, to identify 12 users accused of making the offending statements. Two of the users, “globalup” and “diverdavis,” had Google e-mail accounts; Admission Consultants said the e-mail addresses were insufficiently identifying, and it pursued Google for more information on those users.
According to Cahn’s opinion, the two users posted messages over a period of several months on the thread, “Do not use www.admissionconultants.com.” Diverdavis reportedly once posted to the thread, “these guys sound like complete crooks." Globalup agreed with other commenters that the company was not legitimate and also posted six of the so-called bump messages.
Cahn said those statements were a matter of opinion and, as such, were not libelous. Based on that, he denied Admission Consultants’ request that Google give up identifying information on the users.