1-4. Defamation & Internet Defamation
Defamation is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation.
Such defamation is couched in 'defamatory language'. Libel and slander are subcategories of defamation. The laws of defamation are divided into two distinct categories: libel and slander. Libel is defined as written defamation. Slander is defined as oral or spoken defamation. Defamation is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion.
Under California Law, defamation is generally defined as “(1) a defamatory statement of fact; (2) concerning the plaintiff; (3) which was false; (4) which was communicated to a person or persons other than the plaintiff; (5) with actual knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard of the statement's truth or falsity or with negligence in failing to ascertain the truth or falsity; and (6) which caused damage.
However, the proliferation of the Internet over the last few years has added a new dimension to the world of communication and media. Not only does the Internet provide endless sources of information for the general public, it also provides members of public the opportunity to become a source of information themselves. Social Medias, Blogs, Websites, Commercial Review Sites (i.e. Yelps, Angies List, Tripadvisors, etc.), Listserves and chat rooms are only a few of the cyber-forums where anyone with Internet access can share their opinions and publish statements of fact. While this publishing opportunity can be exciting and helpful for those interested in communicating an idea, the issue of anonymous speech on the Internet has created some complications in the established tort of defamation. Internet forums typically involve dialogue between anonymous or pseudo-anonymous individuals, making it difficult for would-be plaintiffs in defamation cases to know who to sue or even how to sue them. Many defendants in Internet defamation actions claim that revealing their identity for the purpose of a defamation suit is not necessary and, in fact, is a violation of their right to free speech under the First Amendment .
Two recent defamation cases (Perez v. Dietz Development LLC & Rahbar v. Batoon) highlight the risks involved in suing former customers or clients for defamation based on the posting of negative online reviews on Internet review websites such as AngiesList.com and Yelp.com. Not only does a defamation claim run the risk of igniting free speech concerns in the context, but filing a weak claim could expose a company to liability in states that have strong anti-SLAPP statutes.
The advent of the Internet has created a new forum for customers to chronicle their purchasing experiences or express their feelings toward service providers, and, in many cases, companies may feel that former customers have been unfairly, or deceptively, critical of their goods or services. Nevertheless, companies should tread carefully when considering legal action against former customers or clients who post unfavorable reviews on the Internet, especially in states like California that have strong anti-SLAPP statutes. In this context, rushing into court can result in an embarrassing defeat, or worse, costly awards under a state’s anti-SLAPP statute.
At the core of all online liability cases is section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) which states that "no provider ... shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another content provider." This language grants every Internet service provider (ISP) immunity from liability for defamation and invasion of privacy. (47 U.S.C. § 230.) Since the CDA's passage in 1996, ISPs have been using their section 230 immunity as an affirmative defense against defamation claims, thereby reducing the incentive for self-policing.
Law Offices of Williams & Williams, PC has vast experience and specializes in successfully resolving Internet defamation and online reputation issues for both speakers and victims of online defamation. In fact, we have had numerous posts containing defamatory, false, or misleading comments “voluntarily” removed by the website owner or “anonymous” poster, without the need to resort to formal litigation. Our successes include having defamatory allegations removed from several social media websites, review-based websites, consumer complaint-based websites and blogs (on-shore and off-shore), private blogs, message boards, and even Internet-based newspaper blogs/postings.
We are skilled Internet defamation attorneys and online libel lawyers – specializing in quickly locating and identifying “anonymous” infringers through the analysis of complex electronic data and use of digital forensic resources. When necessary, we can protect your reputation through the expeditious initiation of litigation seeking damages and attorneys’ fees, and subpoena the relevant Internet Service Provider to provide information revealing the identity of the “anonymous” cyber-attacker. Williams & Williams Law Firm also offers online reputation management tactics in response to Internet defamation with the goal of combatting attacks on your online reputation and goodwill.
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