How is internet slander defined?

What courses of action does one have if someone has posted negative, slanderous information about them on a private blog? Is it legal to take photos from Facebook and repost elsewhere?

Portland, OR -

Attorney Answers (2)

Jay Bodzin

Jay Bodzin

Family Law Attorney - Milwaukie, OR
Answered

What course of action does one take regarding negative statements about oneself on the internet?Typically, one writes a counterargument.

Is it legal to take photos from facebook and repost them elsewhere? Yes. In theory, Facebook asserts an intellectual property ownership of all material that users upload to it, and reserves the right to use anything on its servers. It's not yet clear whether they also reserve the right to stop users from using the same material for their own personal purposes - that would be pretty outrageous. But in any case, that is a question of Facebook's rights versus the users, not of one user's right against another. If you upload a photo to the internet, then anyone who sees it, in practice, can use it. If you've copyrighted the image, then they shouldn't pass it off as their own; but they can download it and re-post it.

Your implicit question seems to be, can you sue someone for these things? And the answer is, probably not. You certainly cannot sue the owner of the web host that holds the stuff. Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act, a relatively recent piece of Federal legislation, holds that internet service providers and web hosts are not to be treated as the speakers of any information that they host, so long as they are not the “information content provider” of the statement at issue. This law is intended to shield ISPs from liability for content posted by their users.

Xcentric Ventures, the owner of www.ripoffreport.com, has been subject to a large number (at least a dozen) of lawsuits by persons who were criticized - slandered, they would say - on its site. Many of these suits settled before trial; those that have gone to trial have generally ended in Xcentric’s favor, with the courts holding that Section 230’s liability shield protects the site's owners from liability for statements posted by its users. In other cases, courts have ordered the defendant posters of inappropriate statements to remove them, but the site refused to comply with these court orders, on the grounds that they were not parties to the case, due to their Section 230 liability, and so are not bound by its judgment. The point is that it is very hard to successfully sue a website's owners for defamation. And that assumes that the statements involved actually are defamatory. Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim.

You could, of course, sue the person who actually made the statements. But to prevail, you'd have to demonstrate, first, that the statements were untrue; that the speaker knew them to be untrue; and that you have suffered a specific, cognizable (i.e., expressible in dollars) harm as a direct result of the untrue statement. Mere "emotional distress" (or, as it is known on the internet,"butthurt") doesn't count.

Feel free to ask around. You can contact the Oregon State Bar for a free referral at 503-684-3763. But bear these considerations in mind. Defamation cases were notoriously difficult even before the internet pervaded every aspect of our lives; they're nearly impossible now.

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Jay Bodzin is licensed to practice law in the State of Oregon and... more
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Andrew Mark Jaffe

Andrew Mark Jaffe

Internet Lawyer - Akron, OH
Answered

The defamation laws for slander and libel are no different on the Internet than they are in the real world. Defamation is a false attack on a person’s character or good name which damages their reputation. Defamation is called libel if it is in hard copy form and slander if is a result of the speaker’s oral words.

The elements that must be proved to establish defamation are that the statement: 1) was published to an outside party; 2) is a false statement of fact; 3) is understood to concern the defamed party and will tend to harm their reputation; and 4) must have been made with actual malice if the defamed party is a public figure

There are many affirmative defenses to an acquisition of defamation including the truth of the statement, that the statement was merely the defamer’s opinion (but merely labeling a statement as your “opinion” does not make it so - Courts look at whether a reasonable reader or listener could understand the statement as asserting a statement of verifiable fact.) Further, some jurisdictions have retraction statutes that provide protection from defamation lawsuits if the publisher retracts the allegedly defamatory statement.

As to your question about reposting pictures – it is up to the copyright holder. Usually this is the person who took the picture. If the poster is not the copyright holder your best course of action is to send a DMCA notice to the web host to take the pictures down.

Please feel free to contact me for a no charge consultation. I am experienced in Internet defamation cases.

Sincerely,

Andrew M. Jaffe
Attorney at law

(330) 666-5026
attorneyjaffe@aol.com
www.netlaws.us

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