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SLAPPing e-Publius: Protecting anonymous expression and reputation in a digital age
Unformatted Document Text:  Running  head:  SLAPPing  e-­‐Publius     13   to apply to telegraph operators in the 1800s. 42 It was not until 1950, in fact, that a court developed a standard for defamation transmitted via the telegraph, a standard that viewed telegraph services as distributors of third-party information rather than as publishers and, therefore, as eligible for some immunity. 43 The distributor categorization subsequently was adopted in U.S. tort law in 1966. 44 When television and radio first became popular, courts were asked to determine whether broadcast statements and depictions were more like libel or slander or, in other words, whether they were more like the printed word or the spoken word. 45 At first, the distinction hinged on whether there was a script or not, with scripted broadcasts seen more like libel and spontaneous or extemporaneous expression seen more like slander. 46 As courts began recognizing the longer-term effects and injury that broadcast defamation could cause, especially when and where it was taped or recorded, they began applying traditional libel standards to broadcast material, holding radio and television broadcasters to the same standard of liability for third-party content as traditional publishers. 47 The Restatement (Second) of Torts states that “one who broadcasts defamatory matter by                                                                                                                 42 See Paul Israel, F ROM MACHINE SHOP TO INDUSTRIAL LABORATORY : TELEGRAPHY AND THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF A MERICAN INVENTION , 1830–1920 (1992). 43 W. Union Tel. Co. v. Lesesne, 182 F.2d 135 (4th Cir. 1950). From the decision: “it is only when the company has knowledge or reason to know that the messages are [defamatory] that it becomes liable for libelous matter contained therein” (at 137). 44 W. Page Keeton, et al., P ROSSER AND K EETON ON THE L AW OF T ORTS § 113, at 812 (5th ed. 1984). 45 For a discussion, see Thomas G. Ciarlone Jr. and Eric W. Wiechmann, Cybersmear may be coming to a Website near you: A primer for corporate victims, 70 D EFENSE C OUNSEL J. 51 (Jan. 2003). 46 Laurence H. Eldredge, T HE L AW OF D EFAMATION §13, at 83 (1978). 47 Anthony M. Townsend, et al., Libel and Slander on the Internet, 43 C OMM . OF THE ACM 15, 1517 (June 2000). The State of California is an exception, still regarding defamatory statements on television and radio as slander rather than libel (Cal. Civ. Code Ann. 46, 48.5; Arno v. Stewart, 54 Cal. Rptr. 382 [Cal. App. 1966]). For the “permanence” of broadcasts when taped and replayed, see See Eldredge, The Law of Defamation §13, at 83.

Authors: Carroll, Brian.
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Running  head:  SLAPPing  e-­‐Publius  
 
13  
to apply to telegraph operators in the 1800s.
42
 It was not until 1950, in fact, that a court 
developed a standard for defamation transmitted via the telegraph, a standard that viewed 
telegraph services as distributors of third-party information rather than as publishers and, 
therefore, as eligible for some immunity.
43
 The distributor categorization subsequently 
was adopted in U.S. tort law in 1966.
44
  
 
When television and radio first became popular, courts were asked to determine 
whether broadcast statements and depictions were more like libel or slander or, in other 
words, whether they were more like the printed word or the spoken word.
45
 At first, the 
distinction hinged on whether there was a script or not, with scripted broadcasts seen 
more like libel and spontaneous or extemporaneous expression seen more like slander.
46
 
As courts began recognizing the longer-term effects and injury that broadcast defamation 
could cause, especially when and where it was taped or recorded, they began applying 
traditional libel standards to broadcast material, holding radio and television broadcasters 
to the same standard of liability for third-party content as traditional publishers.
47
 The 
Restatement (Second) of Torts states that “one who broadcasts defamatory matter by 
                                                                                                               
42
 See Paul Israel, F
ROM MACHINE SHOP TO INDUSTRIAL LABORATORY
:
 TELEGRAPHY AND THE CHANGING 
CONTEXT OF 
A
MERICAN INVENTION
,
 
1830–1920
 
(1992). 
 
43
 W. Union Tel. Co. v. Lesesne, 182 F.2d 135 (4th Cir. 1950). From the decision: “it is only when the 
company has knowledge or reason to know that the messages are [defamatory] that it becomes liable for 
libelous matter contained therein” (at 137). 
 
44
 W. Page Keeton, et al., P
ROSSER AND 
K
EETON ON THE 
L
AW OF 
T
ORTS
 § 113, at 812 (5th ed. 1984). 
 
45
 For a discussion, see Thomas G. Ciarlone Jr. and Eric W. Wiechmann, Cybersmear may be coming to a 
Website near you: A primer for corporate victims, 70 D
EFENSE 
C
OUNSEL 
J.
 
51 (Jan. 2003). 
 
46
 Laurence H. Eldredge, T
HE 
L
AW OF 
D
EFAMATION
 §13, at 83 (1978). 
 
47
 Anthony M. Townsend, et al., Libel and Slander on the Internet, 43
 
C
OMM
.
 OF THE 
ACM 15, 1517 (June 
2000). The State of California is an exception, still regarding defamatory statements on television and radio 
as slander rather than libel (Cal. Civ. Code Ann. 46, 48.5; Arno v. Stewart, 54 Cal. Rptr. 382 [Cal. App. 
1966]). For the “permanence” of broadcasts when taped and replayed, see See Eldredge, The Law of 
Defamation §13, at 83. 
 


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