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Censorship The Courts Your Rights Online

Court Rules Website Doesn't Have To Remove Defamatory Comments 145

DustyShadow writes "In the case of Blockowicz v. Williams, The US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to force Ripoff Report to remove allegedly defamatory comments posted by a user. The Ripoff Report has a well-publicized no-takedown policy, even if the author wants to remove his/her post, so the Ripoff Report refused. The Blockowiczs then claimed that the Ripoff Report violated FRCP 65(d) because the Ripoff Report was 'in active concert or participation' with the initial posters by refusing the injunction's removal order. The district court (and the Court of Appeals) disagreed with the Blockowiczs. Absent the 'active concert or participation,' the website was outside the court's control. Ripoff Report has released a statement concerning this case: 'In keeping with our core mission of protecting speech to the fullest extent of the law, we decided that it was not just our right but also our duty to ask questions and dig deeper before we could comply with such an order. Other sites claim they support free speech, but when the going gets rough, they will usually protect their bottom line rather than the Constitutional rights and freedoms this country was founded upon. Unlike other sites, even when the speech involved is harsh or negative and even if our position sometimes generates negative press for us, we think that the First Amendment requires us to put our principles before our pocketbook and fight against censorship.'"
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Court Rules Website Doesn't Have To Remove Defamatory Comments

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  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @04:42PM (#34703018)

    They fought to protect a statement found false in federal court? Why keep it up then if it isn't true in the first place? I can understand the whole "We didn't have our day in court" deal, but it's a lie to start with. You won, but you're still publishing a lie, at least of some sort.

    They came first for the Communists and I didnt speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
    They they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
    Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    Its right to fight censorship and oppression even when it targets the fringe. Even if it means defending "liars", the KKK, flag burning, and pornography. If you let them come after those, and set precedents, its going to be a much harder fight when they come after you.

  • by cosm ( 1072588 ) <thecosm3@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @04:44PM (#34703044)

    They fought to protect a statement found false in federal court? Why keep it up then if it isn't true in the first place? I can understand the whole "We didn't have our day in court" deal, but it's a lie to start with. You won, but you're still publishing a lie, at least of some sort.

    Are you suggesting that people should yield to those who claim something is found false? That is wishy-washy ground you stand on. Say a site dedicated to AGW publishes a study showing a positive correlation to technological growth and increased global warming.

    Another group comes out and claims the studies methodologies are incorrect, inherently making the conclusions drawn false. Enter beatnik judge/jury who rules in favor of a take-down because of the ruled 'false-ness'. Should we be the arbitrators of 'truthiness' of all published data, especially if it is from a private entity?

    If I start a website called, and it is proved false through the axioms of arithmetic, do you suggest that if I was brought to court I should just give up since I have been proven wrong? This is a strength, and I may be off base with the topic, but I believe in a free society in which there is no censorship by the government, the corporations, or the courts.

    Lately it has seemed that free speech has only been free as long as it doesn't piss anybody off. This ruling is a step back in the positive direction.

  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <`gro.uaeb' `ta' `sirromj'> on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @04:47PM (#34703078)

    The 1st Amendment is so misunderstood. Yes you have a right to speak. Yes the GOVERNMENT is forbidden from censoring speech in most cases. But the 1st Amendment is entirely concerned with what the Federal (and some say it extends to the states now by the 14th Amendment) can't do to you. A private entity is perfectly within their rights to censor itself, what it transmits, retransmits, etc. The right to speak is not a requirement to speak. Remember that the 5th Amendment is clear that we have an equal right to remain silent.

    So this website isn't 'protecting the 1st Amendment' or 'required by the 1st Amendment' to leave a post up, especially if they know it is false. CAN they leave it up? Sure. SHOULD they? Perhaps, but at a minimum a modicum of responsibility should require they edit the post in question to include (even a small link) to the truth. That isn't censorship, it is seeking the Truth.

  • by TheCRAIGGERS ( 909877 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @05:00PM (#34703226)

    Some sites allow users to edit or remove their posts. Some, like Slashdot, do not. I'm not sure what would happen if I posted something so stupid that I felt the need to email a Slashdot mod to remove my comment, but people need to realize that just like screaming something foolhardy at work or in public, posting something on the internet never really goes away. Even if the mod did take down my comment, Google and a handful of other indexing sites have recorded it, etc.

    If the statements posted by Bridezilla were factually false, the photographer probably has a case for libel. Perhaps some might think suing the bride after she recanted would be wrong- to those, I redirect to the first paragraph of my post.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @05:03PM (#34703246) Journal
    If their policy is to be, essentially, a public write-once-read-many record to consumer interactions with businesses(which it seems to be) protecting their right to continue that policy seems both perfectly logical and, frankly, to be in the public interest.

    It is not at all uncommon for businesses to apply various sorts of suasion, either positive(take down your comment and we'll throw in a free XYZ.." or coercive(take down your comment or we'll sue/report you as a bad buyer/scotch your warranty/whatever). Anybody who has spent time on ebay should be familiar with the phenomenon. Thus, making reports irrevertable likely keeps that to a minimum.

    More broadly, there is a much more basic, and vital consideration at stake: Historically, there have existed various common venues that, in general, were never considered responsible for the behavior that occurred on them(If a piece of land, say, is owned by the state or somebody who has never seen it in his life and it has existed as a public right-of-way for 200 years, who are you going to punish, other than the guilty parties themselves, for the fact that something bad happened on it? The idea is barely plausible, and certainly not practical.) On the internet, clearly a vital communication medium of the present and future, there are no such "natural commons". If somebody doesn't maintain the server and pay the bandwidth bills, any internet venue will vanish into the ether within months, at most. All "spaces" on the internet have an owner(at most, an owner who exploits jurisdictional blind spots to try to stay out of sight; but there are no "commons").

    If web operators are not given a degree of impunity for material that they happen to host; but have no other relation to, the results will be unpleasant: On a purely practical level, censorship of anything more than some tiny little hobby forum is extremely expensive. Say goodbye to any largely-automated online services. This is why even the DMCA, almost wholly an odious giveaway to the most reactionary of IP lobbyists, recognizes "safe harbor".

    In an analogous vein, so long as ripoffreports does not purport to speak for the truth of the statements, merely to provide a venue for making them, suppressing them, would be analogous to forcing landowners to control the speech of anybody they let use their land, even if they do so on a "free public access" basis...
  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @05:30PM (#34703530)

    So charge the defamers with defamation... leave the 3rd party website host alone.

  • by clone52431 ( 1805862 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @05:50PM (#34703790)

    And when the defamers are convicted and ordered to take down the defamatory posts, which 3rd party webhost refuses to do?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @05:53PM (#34703812)

    They came first for the libelists and I didn't speak up because I didn't defame people publicly.
    Then they came for the muggers and I didn't speak up because I didn't beat people up in the streets.
    Then they came for the rapists and I didn't speak up because I didn't rape people.
    Then they came for the murderers and I didn't speak up because I didn't murder people.
    They they suddenly decided out of the fucking blue to change their entire M.O., ignore the entire "these people were actually criminals" part of their previous actions, and come for me and by that time there was no more criminal element left to speak up...?

    What? WHAT?!? Are you seriously comparing the extermination of the Jews to silencing people who maliciously lie about people/companies in an attempt to harm them? I mean, even if this is snide sarcasm, there's nothing else in the thread you're responding to! Did they forget the meds at the asylum today or something?

  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @06:18PM (#34704056)

    Does the New York Times go back and redact the microfilm version of their paper? Or do they print a correction?

    Why jump to erase history? Just because it is easier to do than in the past?

Some people carve careers, others chisel them.