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Judicial Insights into Online Defamation

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Judicial Insights into Online Defamation

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A federal court of appeals has rejected the notion that “circulation” rather than “publication” of allegedly defamatory material online and through email distribution is sufficient to state a claim.

In late 2013/early 2014, financial publisher The Deal, LLC posted three articles on its subscriber-only website and also sent the articles in an email newsletter to its 700 subscribers. In 2017, Scottsdale Capital Advisors Corp. and its’ executive officer, John Hurry, filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Hampshire against The Deal and William Meagher, the writer, claiming that the articles were defamatory to the plaintiffs. None of the parties have ties to the state of New Hampshire and defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. After allowing discovery on jurisdiction, the trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case.

On appeal, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. In analyzing whether the plaintiffs could demonstrate defamation under New Hampshire law, the question became whether defendants had published the alleged defamatory content to a third party located in New Hampshire. The undisputed evidence was that the only subscriber located in the state was Dartmouth College and that no one from the college had accessed the defendants’ website. There was no evidence that the two individuals at Dartmouth had even opened defendants’ email newsletter. The court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that mere “circulation” of the articles satisfied the publication element.

The bottom line is that this court refused to establish a new or different standard for alleged online defamation. Review the federal appellate court decision here. Contact us at Ossian Law P. C.  regarding any information technology law matter.

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