Title

The California Supreme Court's Decision in Barrett v. Rosenthal: How the Court's Decision Could Further Hamper Efforts to Restrict Defamation on the Internet

Department

Communication

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Fall 2007

Abstract

In November 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled in Barrett v. Rosenthal that Internet "users" are immune from liability when they post or forward online information that is defamatory. The court cited section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency (CDA) Act as precedent for its decision. The law grants immunity to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other "users" for any offensive material posted on their online interactive computer services. This article analyzes the Barrett ruling and argues that it leaves three questions unanswered: (1) How does the CDA apply to conspiracies between two users of the Internet where one is an "unknown" publisher and the other poses as a "distributor" of offensive material?; (2) By federal law, is an individual third party "user" of defamatory material virtually the same as an ISP and, therefore, not held responsible for the defamatory information?; and (3) Does the Barrett decision make online defamation more likely? In answering these questions, this article reviews three federal court decisions involving the CDA and online defamation. This article argues that while Congress's intent in the CDA pertained to granting immunity to ISPs for offensive content, the CDA also leaves the door open for individuals to knowingly post or forward defamatory information on the Internet.

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