Back in 2012, the 3rd US District Court of Appeals ruled that the Philadelphia Inquirer wasn’t liable for linking to defamatory content. More than just an Internet defamation ruling, the case also highlighted how bankruptcy and statute of limitations can affect the outcome of online defamation lawsuits.
Charter School Sues Newspaper For Defamation
Originally filed in 2009 by Chester Community Charter School and CEO Vahan H. Gureghian, the suit alleged that the media outlet published “false, defamatory and misleading” statements about him on account of a failed business deal with one of the paper’s employees.
Should A Website Be Punished For Linking to Defamatory Content?
The Inquirer filed for bankruptcy and the lawsuit ultimately flat lined. Unsatisfied with the outcome, Gureghian waited until the bankruptcy proceedings wrapped up, and then filed another lawsuit. This time around, the CEO claimed that a link to the original article on the Inquirer’s website constituted “republishing.”
Since Pennsylvania libel law adheres to a single publication rule – which means a party cannot be sued for multiple instances of libel over a single work – the bench came down in favor of the defendant, in large part because the material wasn’t “substantially repacked and reissued.” Via this ruling, the Pennsylvania bench made it clear that linking to defamatory content doesn’t qualify as “substantially repacked and reissued.”
The court explained that if the plaintiff won this case, “a publisher would remain subject to suit for statements made many years prior and ultimately could be sued repeatedly for a single (harmful) act.”
An Important Pennsylvania Online Defamation Case
The ruling is significant as it firmly establishes legal precedence in Pennsylvania regarding linking to defamatory content and the single publication rule. Moreover, it makes clear that officials in the state require a significant content change for a “republishing” libel case to hold up against PA’s one-year defamation statute of limitations.