SW Legal studies in Business

Website Operator Has Reporter Privileges Protected by First Amendment
Description

New Hampshire high court held that a company complaining about information posted about it on a website cannot force the material to be removed; it is protected by First Amendment. The identity of an anonymous visitor need not be revealed unless it is shown that there is a likelihood of defamation.

Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words

Defamation; Website; Postings; Injunction

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Implode operated a website called “The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter” that identified “at risk” companies for their bad lending habits. One article concerned administrative action taken by New Hampshire regulators against Mortgage Specialists (MS). The posting also detailed its loan figures. An anonymous web visitor posted negative comments about MS and its president. MS petitioned for injunctive relief, contending that the loan figures published were privileged and that the postings by the web visitor were defamatory and must be removed. MS demanded to know the identity of the web visitor. The trial court held for MS. Implode appealed.

Decision

Reversed and remanded. The website operator is a “reporter” and has newsgathering privileges. It need not disclose the source of its information unless the trial court is given detailed information by the plaintiff that would justify such action. The plaintiff would have to show that the published information by the web visitor likely was defamatory; in that case, revelation of the identity of the web visitor may be proper. The trial court may not issue an injunction against republication of the material—that would be an impermissible prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment.

Citation

Mortgage Specialists, Inc. v. Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, ---A.2d--- (2010 WL 1791274, Sup. Ct., Vt., 2010)

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