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Jan. 21 - Web Message Board Is Immune From Defamation Claims, Public Citizen Tells Federal Court

Federal Law Protects Internet Service Providers, Forum Operators

An Internet message board that allows consumers to critique telemarketers cannot be held responsible for comments posted by its users, Public Citizen said in a brief filed in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Federal law and past court rulings give immunity to people and companies that host Internet forums, said Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy, who along with local counsel Judith M. Mercier of Holland & Knight in Orlando, is representing 800notes.com.

The court should dismiss the defamation case filed by Vision Media, a Florida company that makes TV spots for nonprofit groups and that gets new business by cold-calling prospective customers. Vision Media was unhappy with comments posted by users who also cited published reports that the company’s marketing calls were deceptive.

Rather than go after the writers of the alleged defamatory remarks, Vision Media sued Julia Forte, who runs 800notes.com, claiming she deliberately solicited sensational charges to attract readers. Vision Media offered no proof to back its claims. In fact, Forte, doesn’t write or edit any of the user comments posted on her site and has done nothing that would make her legally responsible for comments posted there, Levy said.

"Congress and the courts are clear in their intent to protect the free and open exchange of ideas on the Web," Levy said. "To hold Internet service providers responsible for the millions of postings disseminated through their services would have a chilling effect on free speech."

To read Public Citizen’s brief, go to http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/CaseDetails.cfm?cID=591. 

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