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Posted: October 29, 2005 12:04 PM
Lawyers grapple with sticky blog issues

By Joel Christian Ballezza
ONA Convention Online Staff

Are online news sites liable for content posted by site visitors? A panel of media lawyers Friday turned to the Communications Decency Act for an answer, noting what a boon a section of the act has become.

Section 230, passed by Congress in 1996, stipulates that online publishers are generally not liable for content provided by third parties.

Panelists Robin Bierstedt, deputy general counsel of Time Inc., Ken Richieri, deputy general counsel of The New York Times Co., and Cliff Sloan, general counsel of WashingtonPost/Newsweek Interactive, predicted how the act might impact reporters who blog and publishers who host blogs.

Generally, they said, the act has been kind to online journalism, giving unique immunity to Internet news publishers against potentially libelous third-party posts.

But, cautioned moderator Jon Hart, a member of the D.C. law firm Dow, Lohnes & Albertson, “It is still not clear how the courts will interpret” the act.

Hart posed a number of questions to the panel, including what the liability might be to a media company when a reporter operates his or her own blog.

The lawyers said that could depend on how the reporter identifies himself on the blog, whether or not the content is linked from the employer’s Web site and whether or not the content of the blog expands on news reported for the traditional media outlet.

The subject of third-party content liability emerged in 1995 in a suit filed by the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont Inc. against the Internet service provider Prodigy. The dispute was over a bulletin board posting by one of the ISP’s subscribers. The New York Supreme Court ruled on May 24, 1995, that because the ISP had control of the board’s content, Prodigy was liable for the third-party content.

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