California Supreme Court Rules that Free Speech Trumps Libel When Individuals Quote Defamatory Statements on Internet

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The California Supreme Court this week ruled that free speech consideration protected alledged slander and libelous quotes which are posted to the Internet by third parties – including individuals and websites – in its ruling in the case of Barrett v. Rosenthal. The case centered around an email sent to Ilena Rosethal, director of the Humantics Foundation, in which Tim Bolen gets particularly nasty about two doctors – Dr. Terry Polevoy and Dr. Stephen Barret. Rosenthal then publicly posted Bolen’s email on her website at the Humantics Foundation.

In construing the Federal Communications and Decency Act of 1996, the court held that the Act offered broad immunity for individuals and websites who republish information and quotes gathered from third-party sources, even if they knew or should have known that the statements were false.


Explained California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan, “The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications. Nevertheless … statutory immunity serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended.”

“By reaffirming that Congress intended to grant protection under [the Act] to those who provide a forum for the views of others, the Court has ensured that the Internet will remain a vibrant forum for debate and the free exchange of ideas. Any other ruling would have inevitably made speech on the Internet less free,” said Ann Brick, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

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2 thoughts on “California Supreme Court Rules that Free Speech Trumps Libel When Individuals Quote Defamatory Statements on Internet

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  2. There is no such thing as free speech unless someone is discussing the weather. Good things are free yes, but good things are invariably abused and this causes a cost to someone, namely the libel victim. Congressional immunity for republishing libel online (particularly with foreknowledge) is absurd. Try it with a newspaper, and that only lasts a day. Adherents and practitioners of this safe-harbor are either lazy, ambivalent or anti-social.

    In a perfect world free speech without cost would work, so would communism….. You can read my more artful explanation here:

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