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Websites not liable for third party posts - court

Lawyers stunned by common sense ruling

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The California Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling on Monday stating that websites can't be sued over third-party content, the Associated Press reports.

The court found that, according to the Communications Decency Act of 1996, only the person responsible for creating libellous content can be pursued.

At issue was a San Diego woman, Ilena Rosenthal, who is alleged to have slandered a doctor by posting email memos obtained from third parties on her website, the wire service says.

The decision is bad news for lawyers, who naturally take on these cases in hopes of suing the daylights out of rich operators like Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, and the like. Not surprisingly, many of these outfits generously participated on behalf of the defendant.

A Lower California court had ruled that the liability protections provided by the Communications Decency Act did not apply to individual online "distributors" of putatively libellous content, like Rosenthal. But the state Supremes found that "by declaring that no 'user may be treated as a publisher' of third party content, Congress has comprehensively immunised re-publication by individual internet users".

Thus lawyers' lobbying groups will have to go back to Capitol Hill and buy some better legislation, allowing them to sue wealthier targets. ®

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