U.S. Justices: Listserv, Website Operator Immune From Defamation

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Justices let stand a ruling Monday that a listserv and website operator who posted a third party’s email was immune from a defamation claim under the Communications Decency Act.

The case could have had high impact for webmasters and newsletter publishers who use the Internet to distribute messages if the high court were to review the appeal from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Instead, the Justices declined the case.

The civil case involved Ton Cremers, who was a director of Security at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum and operates Museum Security Network, a website and listserv about museum security and art theft.

Robert Smith, who had been hired by North Carolina attorney Ellen Batzel to paint her home, sent an email to Cremers. Smith's email expressed the belief that artwork hanging in Batzel's home was Nazi-looted art and gave Batzel's home address. Cremers lightly edited the message and published it on the website and listserv.

Batzel sued Cremers and Smith for defamation in U.S. District Court. On appeal, the 9th Circuit ruled Cremers was immune from liability because he was a provider of interactive computer services under Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act of 1995.

Section 230(c) of the Act states that "[N]o 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 9th Circuit declined a review of the decision in December.

Batzel urged the Supreme Court to review the case, arguing the Internet created a greater potential for harm from the publishing of defamatory information.

Batzel contended Cremers was not entitled to immunity under the Act because he actively selected and developed the information and therefore was an information content provider, not immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act.

The case is Batzel vs. Smith (Denial of Certiorari), No. 03-1247.