David Ardia, writing for the Citizen Media Law Project, has posted a PDF of the actual lawsuit brought against Cape Cod Today blogger Peter Robbins (photo at left), which I described this past weekend.
According to Ardia, Robbins and a pseudonymous commenter — in the original, unedited blog post — made several statements that could prove to be troublesome concerning plaintiff Joe Dugas and others involved in trying to stop the dredging of Barnstable Harbor.
As Ardia notes, the standard in libel law is that a factual assertion, even if it is couched in the form of an opinion, could be libelous if it is judged as false and defamatory. That’s what Dugas and his lawyer, Paul Revere III, claim in their suit against Robbins and “noggin,” the pseudonymous commenter.
On the other hand, Ardia writes, the decision by Cape Cod Today publisher Walter Brooks to remove the material Dugas found objectionable could substantially limit the amount of damages the plaintiffs might collect.
One other thing: In an e-mail to Media Nation, Ardia says I was wrong to assert that federal law protects Internet service providers such as Cape Cod Today as long as they promptly remove potentially libelous content. According to Ardia, an ISP retains its immunity even if it does not remove the material.
“No court has found that a website operator must respond or remove allegedly libelous content to retain immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” Ardia writes. And he guesses, correctly, that I was getting confused with copyright law, which does indeed hold an ISP harmless as long as it promptly responds to complaints of copyright infringement.
Media lawyer Robert Ambrogi also weighs in on the Robbins case, as well as another libel suit brought against a blogger, asking, “Has someone installed a hair trigger on libel lawsuits against bloggers? If you don’t like what a blogger writes, just take a litigation potshot.”