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Bad Words and Good Samaritans: Defamatory Speech in Cyberspace
Unformatted Document Text:  B AD W ORDS AND G OOD S AMARITANS : D EFAMATORY S PEECH IN C YBERSPACE ICA-1-10198 The unprecedented growth of the Internet has raised a variety of difficult legal questions. While public attention has focused on efforts to regulate sexually explicit speech, more than 400 defamation suits have been filed for Internet speech over the past two years (Anschütz, 2001, p. 42). Defamation actions have resulted from content available on Web sites, postings to bulletin boards, and conversations in chat rooms. A brief sampling of these suits includes filings for allegedly defamatory statements made about medical equipment (Medphone v. DeNigris, 1993) and direct mail (Suarez v. Meeks, 1994) companies, for complaints about vacations (Bowker v. America Online, 1995), for allegations of spousal abuse (Blumenthal v. Drudge, 1998), and for comments made about policemen (Baitinger v. Fajardo, 1997), doctors (Morrison v. America Online, 2001), judges (Melvin v. Doe, 2000), and attorneys (PatentWizard v. Kinko’s, 2001). The vast majority of these claims will, undoubtedly, be settled out of court. It is worth noting, however, that a handful of Internet defamation cases have already been tried and plaintiffs have received impressive damage awards. In one of the first cases tried in January 2001, a federal jury awarded $675,000 to a prominent urologist who was defamed in a series of postings to a Yahoo! message board (“E.D. Va. Jury,” 2001, p. 5). More recently, a Santa Clara County jury awarded $775,000 in damages to a California company that was defamed by two disgruntled former employees in more than 14,000 postings to 100 different message boards (“Jury Orders,” 2002, p. 18). As the number of speakers in cyberspace is increasing, the number of defamation claims and jury trials will surely grow.

Authors: Herbeck, Dale.
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background image
B
AD
W
ORDS AND
G
OOD
S
AMARITANS
:
D
EFAMATORY
S
PEECH IN
C
YBERSPACE
ICA-1-10198
The unprecedented growth of the Internet has raised a variety of difficult legal questions.
While public attention has focused on efforts to regulate sexually explicit speech, more than 400
defamation suits have been filed for Internet speech over the past two years (Anschütz, 2001, p.
42). Defamation actions have resulted from content available on Web sites, postings to bulletin
boards, and conversations in chat rooms. A brief sampling of these suits includes filings for
allegedly defamatory statements made about medical equipment (Medphone v. DeNigris, 1993)
and direct mail (Suarez v. Meeks, 1994) companies, for complaints about vacations (Bowker v.
America Online, 1995), for allegations of spousal abuse (Blumenthal v. Drudge, 1998), and for
comments made about policemen (Baitinger v. Fajardo, 1997), doctors (Morrison v. America
Online, 2001), judges (Melvin v. Doe, 2000), and attorneys (PatentWizard v. Kinko’s, 2001).
The vast majority of these claims will, undoubtedly, be settled out of court. It is worth
noting, however, that a handful of Internet defamation cases have already been tried and
plaintiffs have received impressive damage awards. In one of the first cases tried in January
2001, a federal jury awarded $675,000 to a prominent urologist who was defamed in a series of
postings to a Yahoo! message board (“E.D. Va. Jury,” 2001, p. 5). More recently, a Santa Clara
County jury awarded $775,000 in damages to a California company that was defamed by two
disgruntled former employees in more than 14,000 postings to 100 different message boards
(“Jury Orders,” 2002, p. 18). As the number of speakers in cyberspace is increasing, the number
of defamation claims and jury trials will surely grow.


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