SW Legal Educational Publishing

On-Line Server Not Publisher of Defamatory E-Mail Delivered Via Server
Description Appeals court granted summary judgment to Prodigy, which was sued by a person who was falsely accused of sending a crank e-mail. Court held that since Prodigy does not control the content of e-mails, it is not liable for defamatory materials that may be sent without its knowledge.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words E-mail Defamation, Emotional Distress, Liability
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Lunney was initially accused of sending a crank e-mail, signed by Lunney, to a person he knew. Prodigy apologized when it was shown that someone fraudulently opened a Prodigy account in Lunney's name. Lunney sued Prodigy, the e-mail server company, for defamation and emotional distress, for allowing the e-mail that falsely identified Lunney as the sender, to be delivered to the receiver. The trial court refused Prodigy's request for summary judgment; Prodigy appealed.
Decision Summary judgment granted. Assuming that the e-mail "would indeed be defamatory, we conclude that Prodigy cannot be held legally responsible for it ... because (1) Prodigy did not publish the statement, and (2) even if Prodigy could be considered a publisher of the statement, a qualified privilege protects it from any liability given the absence of proof that Prodigy knew such a statement would be false." Just as the phone companies are not responsible for defamatory messages sent over phone lines, e-mail servers are not responsible for the content of messages they do not control. "The remaining theories upon which the plaintiff proposed to impose liability on Prodigy are patently meritless."
Citation Lunney v. Prodigy Services Co., --NYS2d-- (1998 WL 909836, Sup. Ct., App. Div.)
or
683 N.Y.S. 2d 557 (Sup. Ct. App. Div., N.Y. 1998)

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