Liability for CyberLibel?

In Barrett v. Rosenthal, California Supreme Court [No. S122953], the Supreme Court of California is presently reviewing a decision by the California Court of Appeal, First District, Div. Two [No. A096451], which held Illena Rosenthal, a woman’s health advocate, liable for posting a controversial opinion piece on a Usenet news group. The piece was written not by Rosenthal, but by Tim Bolen, a critic of plaintiff Terry Polevoy.

Federal law provides that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider, 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1), and that no cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section, §230(e)(3). Note, the statute contains important exceptions which are not called into play in this case. See, e.g., 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(1) (excepting federal criminal liability); and § 230(e)(2) (scope of intellectual property laws remain unchanged).

The text of Section 230 indicates that Congress created this immunity in order to limit the impact on the Internet of federal or state regulation imposed either through statute or through the application of common law causes of action. See 47 U.S.C. § 230(a)(4) (the Internet and other interactive computer services “have flourished, to the benefit of all Americans, with a minimum of government regulation”; id. § 230(b)(2) (“[i]t is the policy of the United States” to minimize Internet regulation).

Defendant Rosenthal contends that an adverse decision by the California Supreme Court would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and circumvent the federal statute and legislative intent.

Click here to read a related article from regarding Michael J. Zwebner, the chief executive of Miami Beach based Universal Communication Systems, who filed five lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Miami in response to comments posted on, operated by Waltham, Mass. based Internet network provider Lycos.