Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yes, Virginia, There is Law in Cyberspace

One annoying feature of Internet law is "Internet exceptionalism" -- the assumption that everything must be different if it's on the Internet. For example, as CNN reports, Courtney Love is being sued for sending a defamatory tweet out on Twitter (she accused a clothing designer of being a drug dealer). CNN claims that the suit confronts "new and unaddressed areas of American law."

Hardly. Look, there have always been lots of different ways of spreading defamatory messages. The Marquess of Queensbury left his calling card with a porter for delivery to Oscar Wilde, and wrote on the card, "To Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite [sic]." Because the Marquess wrote this allegation down, because the porter saw it, it was a public libel. The law deals with such things.

The Internet is exciting and new, but there is nothing "new and unaddressed" about the notion of being responsible for written defamatory statements. The statements can be in books, newspapers, letters, on calling cards, or, yes, on the Internet. Accusing someone of commiting a crime is libel per se. "I only did it on the Internet" is no defense. Let's stop imagining that everything must be different in cyberspace.

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