A ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court stated that author’s of blogs cannot be sued for hyperlinking libelous material. The article mentions that according to this ruling a third party blogger cannot be sued for hyperlinking material deemed offensive or defamatory.
This is a result of a case where a blogger was in question for linking to material that was defamatory to a politician.
A direct excerpt from the decision states that “hyperlinks are, in essence, references, which are fundamentally different from other acts of ‘publication.’ Furthermore, inserting a hyperlink into a text gives the author no control over the content in the secondary article to which he or she has linked.”
In political science 367 this summer, we discussed in great detail the parameters of libel and how far they can stretch to matters dealing with the internet. Many students in the class, including myself, were really optimistic about libel laws being enforced to online media.
So what’s interesting about this court decision is that it now helps solidify, if only a small piece, of what can be considered “producing” libelous material online.
Essentially, the court decision ruled that hyperlinks to a site, article or any piece of written work online, can’t be considered libel if it’s from a third party source and not produced by the blogger. Therefore, a blogger is proteced by such laws inlcuding the ones found in Section 230 which refers to Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code (47 USC § 230) found under the Communication Decency Act of 1996.
Section 230 basically states 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.”
This is a great place for hyperlinking to fall under since the material isn’t collated by the blogger but is a form of freedom of expression. Therefore it can’t be considered libelous information if it’s merely a link.
I think it’s important for new journalists to know that such laws and protections exist. Although this was from the Canadian Supreme Court it speaks volumes that these issues are being discussed and taken into consideration.
Although one can argue that hyperlinking libelous information can lead to a drastic upsurge in searches on causing further damage, it is wrong to say that these things can’t happen. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Libel laws are usually tricky and can get muddled in most cases. But by acknowledging the constant use of hyperlinks in many blogs there is one more protection that honest bloggers can count on.
It isn’t a fool proof method but with everything involving journalism there is seldom any issue that is clear as day.