Court Rules Print-on-Demand Service Not Liable for Defamation
Under the common law, whether a participant is deemed to be a publisher for purposes of imposing defamation liability depends on the “extent to which he participates with an author…of the defamatory statement in its publication,” according to the court’s ruling in this case. Actors who are “more actively involved” in the process may be held liable “because they have the opportunity to know the content of the material being published.”
The court effectively viewed the BookSurge service as a giant online copy machine, noting that it had “negligible involvement” with the authors of the book. BookSurge never fact-checked or reviewed the manuscript, and it had no editorial control over the work. Accordingly, the court found that the service did not know, or have reason to know, that the book might be defamatory or libelous and thus could not be held liable.
Will courts in other states follow the Maine court’s decision in Sandler v. Calcagni? That remains to be seen. Defamation liability is controlled by state law, with an overlay of federal law in the form of the First Amendment. Although the broad general principles of defamation law are fairly uniform throughout the U.S., another jurisdiction might take a different view of the liability of print-on-demand services.
One final unresolved question remains with regard to online libel: can print-on-demand services claim protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act? Section 230 immunizes an interactive service provider (ISP) from liability for content submitted by third parties; it’s the law that protects a website owner from liability for defamatory or libelous statements by users. That defense for online libel was addressed in briefs filed by both BookSurge and the plaintiff but was not addressed in the court’s ruling so that question survives for another day.
Many of our clients ask us whether they should sue for defamation. If you have been the subject of Internet defamation, online libel, or slander, please contact an attorney that is well-versed in online defamation law. An Internet law attorney can help you protect your reputation online and will aid you in removing defamatory postings.