- Last laugh: Marine vet fires off jokes from the grave with own obituary
- Deportations come mostly from border, DHS chief says
- NATO sends surveillance planes to watch Ukraine
- Climate change not a top concern of Americans, poll shows
- GM faces federal investigation for slow recall that led to 13 deaths
- Iran president reaches out to Oman on friendship tour
- FAA’s pre-Malaysia flight warning: 777s have cracking, corrosion issues
- Facebook HQ locked down; employees searched as police field threat
- Glenn Ford free, after serving 30 years for murder he didn’t commit
- Congressman: McAuliffe victory means gun control a winning message
Free-speech ruling aides online firms, not users
IOWA CITY, IOWA (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court has given protections against libel lawsuits to Internet publishers but declined to extend them to average citizens, a ruling that media lawyers called significant Monday.
Friday’s ruling extends free-speech protections long enjoyed by newspapers and broadcasters to companies that distribute Internet content, such as book publishers, experts said. But the court declined to extend those rights to individual social media users, saying the victims of cyberbullying and online smear campaigns should be able to more easily sue for defamation.
University of Iowa journalism professor Lyombe Eko said the court “has given protection to people who are bullied on the Internet, the victims of smears or lies or accusations posted on Facebook and Twitter.” People will be able to sue the attacker, but not the company that hosts the site where the statements are posted, he said.
Media lawyers said the decision modernized Iowa’s libel law by extending free-speech protections to Internet publishers. They had wanted the court to go even farther and give all online communication by citizens the same protections enjoyed by the media at a time when anyone with a computer can publish information.
Still, they were happy with the outcome.
“We were able to radically expand who is considered media. It’s just not news organizations anymore, which is great,” said attorney Mike Giudicessi, who represented a publishing company in the case.
The case involved a 2008 memoir written by former Iowan Scott Weier that describes his relationship with God after a divorce. He paid Author Solutions, Inc., a nontraditional publisher, to design a cover and print copies that he could distribute to bookstores and acquaintances. Author Solutions sold three copies on its website and one through Amazon.
Weier’s ex-wife, Beth Weier, and her father filed a lawsuit against Scott Weier and Author Solutions over statements in the book they considered false and defamatory, including that Beth Weier was abused by her father, suffered from mental illness and was a bad mother.
A court granted an injunction preventing Scott Weier from distributing his book during the lawsuit, and ruled in 2010 that neither the author nor the publishing company qualified for free-speech protections given to traditional media. “ASI is not the New York Times,” a judge wrote.
After an unusually long 18-month review, justices voted 5-2 to overturn that ruling, saying ASI is a media defendant and therefore dismissed the company from the lawsuit.
The definition of media goes beyond businesses that report news, the justices found, extending protections now to any person or company that receives writings and makes them “more suitable and accessible for the public to read.” Scott Weier does not have the same protections and the case against him can proceed because the statements were not of public concern, the court found.
Weier, ASI and media companies had asked the court to strike down a legal doctrine known as libel per se that gives individuals less protection than media from defamation lawsuits. The doctrine presumes that in cases involving regular citizens, the statements were false and the plaintiffs were damaged. In contrast, lawsuits against media require plaintiffs to prove the statements were false and caused damage to their reputation.
Five justices ruled the distinction between media and non-media should stay, saying the Internet has allowed individuals to engage in anonymous attacks that give rise to defamation. Individuals have less incentive to guard their reputation for accuracy than media firms, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.
Mansfield rejected arguments that the Internet allowed targets of defamation to quickly rebut false information, or that allowing such lawsuits has become “a drag on free speech in this state.”
“We are not persuaded that the Internet’s ability to restore reputations matches its ability to destroy them,” he said. “We think libel per se plays a useful role in helping to keep our social interactions from becoming ever more coarse and personally destructive.”
TWT Video Picks
An America drowning in red ink is the land of the free no more
- Inside the Beltway: A new interest in Rahm Emanuel for 2016?
- Deportations come mostly from border, DHS chief says
- HURT: John Kerry The ridiculous face of a ridiculous U.S. diplomacy
- David Jolly wins in Florida, GOP keeps swing district seat
- Brennan: Russia 'absolutely' could invade eastern Ukraine
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
- Obamacare 3 million shy of target with 19 days left to sign up
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- Bill Clinton poses for photo with Bunny Ranch prostitutes
- Special ops forces wearing thin from high demand
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again