No liability for linking to — and praising — allegedly defamatory article

So holds the Connecticut Appellate Court in Vazquez v. Buhl (Conn. App. Ct. May 13, 2014), applying the federal 47 U.S.C. § 230 statute. Here’s what apparently happened:

The complaint alleges the following facts. In December, 2011, and January, 2012, Teri Buhl published several online news articles containing defamatory statements about the plaintiff on her website. On January 6, 2012, John Carney, a senior editor for cnbc.com, published an online article entitled, “The Sex and Money Scandal Rocking Hedge Fund Land” on www.cnbc.com, a website owned and operated by the defendant. Carney’s article referred to Buhl as a “veteran financial reporter” who “knows her way around the Connecticut hedge fund beat,” and urged viewers to read Buhl’s articles by stating, “I don’t want to steal Buhl’s thunder, so click on her report for the big reveal.” The word “report” was a hyperlink to Buhl’s online articles containing the defamatory statements.

Plaintiff sued Buhl and NBC, but the Connecticut Appellate Court held that the lawsuit against NBC was barred by 47 U.S.C. § 230, which states,

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.

The Connecticut court concluded that NBC was acting as a “provider … of an interactive service,” that the linked-to-article was “information provided by another information content provider [Buhl]” (even in the absence of evidence that Buhl had deliberately submitted it to NBC or Carney), and that therefore NBC couldn’t be “treated as the publisher or speaker” of such information for libel purposes. So while Buhl could in theory be sued for any alleged libel — she had been, though plaintiff “withdrew the action as against her” — NBC couldn’t be.

Thanks to Abnormal Use for the pointer.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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Eugene Volokh · May 12