Judge dismisses libel claim against America Online
WASHINGTON, D.C.–In late April a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled that federal law prohibits lawsuits against online service providers based on material placed on the services by third parties.
Judge Paul Friedman ruled that White House aide Sidney Blumenthal could not include America Online, Inc. in a libel suit over Matt Drudge’s online gossip column, even though the online service disseminates the column and pays Drudge a flat royalty fee of $3,000 each month. Blumenthal sued Drudge and AOL over an August 1997 “Drudge Report” that said Blumenthal had abused his wife.
Friedman held that Blumenthal’s suit against AOL was barred by a portion of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that had not been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Whether wisely or not,” Friedman wrote, “[Congress] made the legislative judgment to effectively immunize providers of interactive computer services from civil liability . . . with respect to material disseminated by them but created by others.”
The court also denied Drudge’s motion to either dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction or transfer the lawsuit to a federal court in California, noting that Drudge often contacts people in Washington, D.C. to collect gossip. The judge added in a footnote that “Drudge is not a reporter, a journalist or a newsgatherer. He is, as he himself admits, simply a purveyor of gossip.” (Blumenthal v. Drudge; Media Counsel: Pat Carome, Washington, D.C.)