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Web Operator Libel Liability Lowered in NY

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on June 23, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A recent New York state ruling might have lowered web operator libel liability. "Web operators" include owners of blogs - and libel suits have been filed against blog owners in the past for potentially defamatory material posted on their sites.

The case, brought between two rival apartment sales and rental companies, sets the precedence in New York that the Communications Decency Act stops a firm from suing based on offensive material that was posted anonymously on the other company's blog, reports Buffalo News.

The decision might be good precedence for small businesses who are worried about the dangers of posting too much information on the web via a blog or a forum.

The New York case was about two realty companies. Ardor Realty sued rival Real Estate Group because of anonymous comments that said that Christakis Shiamili, the head of Ardor, mistreated agents, did not pay bills, and was racist and anti-Semitic, reports Buffalo News.

The moderator of Real Estate Group's website then moved the comment over, added an image of Shiamili as Jesus and wrote the words "Chris Shiamili: King of the Token Jews," which only prompted a wave of more derogatory and inflammatory comments, according to Buffalo News. Ardor Realty sued Real Estate Group over the comments - even though Real Estate Group did not write them.

The decision in the New York court was that Real Estate Group was not liable for the defamatory comments because they did not actually write the material - they were simply exercising their editorial powers, a traditional right for publishers, Buffalo News reports.

For small businesses that run web blogs and other online publications, this decision could mean a reduction in potential liability for offensive or derogatory content that is posted on their site. So if your company runs a blog - but an anonymous person writes a comment deriding another person, or writes an inflammatory or obscene comment - you probably wouldn't be held liable under this type of ruling.

However, web operator libel liability and blog libel laws are still relatively new, and could change with time and more court precedents.

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