Since the dawn of communication, humans have played the defamation card. And thanks to technological advancements, even non-sentient entities are being sued for slander and libel. Yes ladies and gents, search engine defamation is a real thing. We have entered the“Zombie Defamation” era.
First Things First: 9 Times Out of 10 Internet Defamation Is Not Slander
Before we get into the concept of search engine defamation, we need to clarify the difference between slander and libel. By definition, a written comment on a website cannot be “slanderous.” Libelous? Yes. Slanderous? No. Why? Because slander is spoken defamation and libel is written defamation. Now, if someone posts a video which includes a false statement of fact, slander would be the correct terminology.
When Non-Sentient Beings Defame, Who Pays?
Like the Imperial Army, search engine spiders multiply daily, and in many ways, the non-human buggers play a significant role in our lives. They fetch the answers to search queries, and, as such, impact our choices.
Take for example the auto-complete functionality on search engines like Google. Once you start typing, it starts suggesting options – and sometimes, those options aren’t exactly flattering. As a result, people have begun suing over the auto-complete suggestions that algorithms offer up.
Search Engine Defamation Lawsuits Around The World – Google Figures In All
Recently, an Australian citizen, Michael Trkulja, won a defamation lawsuit against Yahoo and Google over the two search engines’ auto-complete functionality. Both services displayed the name of a criminal along with photos of Trkulja when someone searches his name. So far, Yahoo and Google have forked over thousands for the offense.
In Japan, a man who may or may not have a past sued Google for auto-complete defamation. When someone searches his name, words associated with criminal happenings appear. He’s arguing that this has prevented him from finding work, so he is suing for defamation.
A German politician’s wife, Bettina Wulff, also sued Google for auto-complete defamation, over a prurient pop-up associated with her name in search results.
Are you looking for an Internet defamation law attorney? Contact Kelly / Warner. We have a dedicated libel team, of AV-rated lawyers, that has successfully navigated businesses and individuals through challenging defamation mazes. Get in touch today.
Keeping abreast of international Internet laws is wise for two main reasons:
- If customers in another country can interact with your site, there’s a strong possibility it’s subject to laws in the users’ jurisdictions; and
- Foreign legal happenings could impact future U.S. Internet law legislation.
So, it is in that spirit that we’ll review an important international online copyright case, NLA v Meltwater.
Press Clipping Agency Sues Online News Outlet: NLA v Meltwater
Plaintiffs: The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) is a U.K.-based copyright license firm. Subscribers to the service are allowed to reprint syndicated news articles. Basic argument: content creators should be compensated for their work.
Defendants: Meltwater News is a self-described “media intelligence” agency that provides users with news metrics for better brand positioning. Basic argument: Due to the proliferation of search engines, NLA licensing fees should be obsolete.
Reason For Lawsuit: As a test case, NLA sued Meltwater for linking to protected content without paying a media licensing fee.
Judges Rule In Favor Of Press Clipping Agency
NLA v Meltwater eventually landed in the Court of Appeal. Ultimately, the judges sided with the NLA, condoning the agency’s licensing fees. Additionally, the court ruled that Meltwater’s clients must have licenses to even access Meltwater data.
But wait, there’s more!
The judges also deemed headlines “separate literary works” (from the article), thereby allowing NLA to collect even more fees!
Possible International Internet Law Implications Of NLA v Meltwater
Britain’s Supreme Court will likely hear the case in 2013. For now, uncertainty abounds as to whether or not clicking a link to a news story constitutes copyright infringement.
NLA v. Meltwater could shake up the international Internet law status quo. If the high court upholds the appeal court’s ruling, who’s to say that other news agencies, or anyone who produces web content, won’t sue over links to headlines? Can you imagine having to pay a blanket copyright licensing fee just to post source links on your website, or face the consequences for copyright infringement?
No one begrudges the NLA for protecting a revenue stream. But in this case, the unintended copyright licensing consequences may spawn, as the Brits say, “bloody awful” international Internet law conflicts down the road.
A church defamation lawsuit made headlines. Here’s a summary of the case.
Church Defamation Case Study: Pastor Sues Former Members Over Blog
The defendant’s attorney recently questioned the plaintiffs justification for the $500,000 award request. “[They] just didn’t cause that much damage,” she reasoned.
The church defamation defendants filed a free speech motion, claiming that their critical online comments were protected by free speech rights. “It may not be what [they] want to hear,” said one of the defendants, who further explained that she “absolutely had the right” to post her criticism and feelings about the congregation.
Congregation Switch Led To Shunning?
The Church defamation tale goes back several years when the main defendant — whom we’ll call “Ashley” — switched congregations. According to reports, after Ashley left, former church friends inexplicably shunned her in public. After meeting with other defectors, Ashley realized that she wasn’t alone. In short order, she’d created an online community where ex-members posted their versions of “creepy” and “cult-like” incidents initiated by members of the former congregation.
What Is The Likely Outcome Of This Church Defamation Case?
Since the news of the lawsuit made headlines, Ashley says she has received tons of positive support from other ex-members and expect the case to be dismissed, whether through the freedom of speech motion or through the trial process.
For their part, church representatives declined to comment and reporters said the establishment’s answering machine was full.
A jury awarded Katherine Murphy, former principal at the Aventura City of Excellence school (ACES), $155 million after she proved that a school executive, Eric Soroka, spread false rumors, which caused her termination. This is a summary of the workplace defamation case.
Workplace Defamation Case Study: Principal v. Administrator
According to the South Florida Business Journal, school and city manager, Eric Soroka, and former principal, Katherine Murphy, had a publicly contentious relationship. In 2006, Soroka allegedly played an instrumental roll in ousting Murphy as a school executive, for supposed financial trickery involving a trip to Switzerland. For her part, Murphy swears she paid for the trip and simply reimbursed for legitimate expenses.
To make matters murkier, Soroka supposedly a) called Murphy a “slut” as retribution for talking to the press without his permission and b) tried to prevent Murphy from communicating with elected officials.
In retaliation, Murphy filed a workplace defamation claim against Soroka. She asked for a cool $155 million as restitution for distress, a damaged reputation, and potential lost income.
And guess what? She won!
Soroka is now filing an appeal. Specifically, he’s claiming that the damages awarded were duplicative and should be reconsidered. “Mr. Soroka’s position is that he is entitled to a judgment in his favor with respect to all claims asserted against him. The jury verdict is contrary to the evidence presented at trial and we are confident that Mr. Soroka’s motion will dispose of the lawsuit,” Soroka’s lawyer said in a statement released to the press.
How To Win A Workplace Defamation Case
Workplace defamation lawsuits follow the same standards as other slander and libel lawsuits. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s statements:
- Caused harm;
- Are false;
- Were published with, at the very least, reckless disregard for the truth.
Sued for online defamation? Looking to mount a libel defense? Below are five Internet defamation defenses that have worked in the past.
Internet Defamation Defenses #1: Truth
Truth is always a defense for defamation. But remember: Parties can also use other torts, like false light or intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, if the statement in question is provably false, then the chances of winning a libel lawsuit increase, significantly.
Internet Defamation Defenses #2: Fair Comment and Criticism
Many bloggers are amateur pundits without access to professional fact checking tools. And sometimes, they rely on questionable sources, which can land them a defamation ring. In the majority of these types of blogger defamation cases, defendants regularly rely on “Fair comment and criticism” arguments.
Internet Defamation Defenses #3: Reasonable Comment
“Reasonableness” plays a significant role in U.S. defamation cases. If a statement is blatantly outrageous, a judge or jury may deem it too unbelievable to be defamatory.
This standard, in part, explains why satire and parody aren’t defamatory.
Leagues of bloggers have escaped libel verdicts by essentially arguing “hyperbolic exaggeration.”
Internet Defamation Defenses #4: Not Damaging
If defendants can prove that their statements didn’t cause harm, a judge or jury may rule in their favor.
Remember, defamation only exists in the presence of material damage. For example, if people never saw the content in question, it couldn’t have caused harm, and therefore not defamatory. Likewise, if a defendant can show that nobody accessed a webpage containing contested content, proving harm would be near impossible.
Internet Defamation Defenses #5: Not My Problem – Section 230 of the CDA
Social media and user-generated content is the norm, and most websites are interactive.
Officials amended the Communications Decency Act with Section 230, to protect sites from assuming responsibility for user content. Section 230 ultimately stops ISPs from being sued over user’s content. It’s the reason why Facebook doesn’t get sued every time Joe Loudmouth litters the platform with libelous nonsense.
In search of an Internet libel attorney? Get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law. Our firm is home to both defamation plaintiff and defense attorneys — and perhaps most importantly, our rates are set with small- to medium-sized businesses in mind.
What is trade libel? It’s the act of lying about a business or product — and instances are skyrocketing because of online reviews.
The Basics Of Libel Law
Standard defamation rules apply in trade libel lawsuits. Plaintiffs must prove that:
- The materials in question are provably false and unprivileged statements of fact;
- The defendants’ statements caused financial or reputational harm; and
- The defendants didn’t properly fact check before publishing or broadcasting the report.
Specifics Considered In Trade Libel Lawsuits
What must people prove to win business defamation claims?
- As is the case with most slander and libel claims, plaintiffs must provide evidence of monetary damages.
- Plaintiffs must prove that the defendants acted intentionally.
- Trade libel claimants can seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
Defenses Against Trade Libel
- Defendants who can prove that they didn’t publish or broadcast the comment have a great shot at winning.
- Tyrion Lannister explained it best, “It’s not slander if it’s true.” Defendants who can prove truth typically win.
- A successful trade libel claim requires proof of harm. If plaintiffs can’t show how statements directly led to profit loss, the likelihood of winning is slim.
The Lanham Act & Trade Libel
“Any person who…in connection with any goods or services…uses in commerce any…false or misleading description of fact, which…in commercial advertising or promotion misrepresents the nature, characteristics, or qualities…of his or her or another person’s goods, services or commercial activities…shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is likely to be damaged by such act.”
The above quote is an excerpt from the Lanham Act, the nation’s false advertising law that prohibits intentional and unsubstantiated product and professional disparagement.
Competition is healthy, and competitors can compare products. Criticizing rivals’ products, based on personal tastes or preferences, is allowed. But, if someone makes a statement in bad faith, all privileges disappear.