ISPs Libel-Proof, Judge Holds p.49

By: Editorial Staff In a legal decision that buoyed Internet service providers everywhere, a federal judge dropped America Online as a defendant in the $30 million defamation lawsuit over a report in the online Drudge Report.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said AOL and other ISPs were exempted from civil suits over editorial content when Congress passed the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
"Whether wisely or not, [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," Friedman wrote. "In recognition of the speed with which information may be disseminated and the near impossibility of regulating information content, Congress decided not to treat providers of interactive computer services like other information providers such as newspapers, magazines or television and radio stations, all of which may be held liable for publishing or distributing obscene or defamatory material written or prepared by others."
The immediate effect of the ruling was to remove the defendant with the deepest pockets from the lawsuit White House aide Sidney Blumenthal filed against AOL and Matt Drudge over an online story the often-gossipy Drudge Report ran last August. Drudge wrote that Blumenthal "has a spousal abuse past that has been effectively covered up." Drudge retracted the item and apologized the day after it appeared.
Jo Bennett Marsh, an attorney for the Blumenthals, was quoted in a Washington Post article by Bill Miller as saying they would appeal the ruling and that they were delighted the judge wrote that Drudge is not a journalist but "simply a purveyor of gossip."
In a statement, AOL said its dismissal was "consistent with Congress' intent and previous court decisions."
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?(copyright: Editor & Publisher April 25, 1998) [Caption]


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