Can a forum website owner be sued for Libel?

It is my understanding that only mean misrepresentation of facts can be construed as libel. Statements of opinion cannot be regarded as libel.
For example, if I enunciate "Company A has questionable business practices", that is an belief.
But if I say "Company A is engaged within business fraud", that is a (potentially libelous) statement of fact.
Correct?

It is also my consideration that an electronic medium like an internet forum is treated as a "distributor" fairly than a "publisher" of information in most circumstances. Therefore as a "distributor" the owner of a forum site is not liable for any libelous comments posted on the forum, any more than a newspaper kiosk owner is responsible for selling the Fourth Estate containing libelous information.

I think this distinction could be muddied somewhat if the owner purports to edit or approve the contents of forum posts since appearing online.
In this case it begins to look profusely more like "publishing" than "distribution".


Overall though if I owned a forum that an anonymous poster used to make potentially libelous comments, would I be free of liability if I clearly posted the following jargon of service on the site:

1) Posts by users of the site are not edited or scrutinized before appearing online
2) The forum owner does not purport to vouch for the authenticity or veracity of any statements inside the forum.
3) All parties who feel aggrieved by any statements inside the forum have free opportunities to provide a rebuttal to those statements in the forum
4) Parties who feel aggrieved by statements within the forum are also free to contact the webmaster directly and provide proof as to why they believe content to be libelous. If circumstances warrant, steps will be taken to removing the offending material expeditiously.
Answers:
Both examples you quote would be classed as statements and not as you read aloud opinions. The reason is you own stated in both that company 'A' is doing something wrong.
If you can prove this then the statement can stand, however if you allow someone to post this on your trellis site, then you could be held responsible. It would not matter if you state contents is not edited, it is up to you to brand name sure it is.
Yes they are

http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/in…
The short answer is yes, you can potentially be held liable. The distributor/publisher distinction is unlikely to help - the distribution exception have more to do with ISPs and hosting companies than the opperators of forums and blogs.

Your examples are both statements of fact, or, at best, inuendos as to reality. A statement of opinion has to be constrained to what someone thinks: "I would not recommend this company" or "I was not beaming with this company's service" are closer to statements of opinion.

You are never going to be capable of completely exclude liability for defamation on a forum, however, even if you are liable, you are unlikely to be taken to court about comments if you remove them when empire complain that they are inaccurate.

In addition individuals running fora are unlikely to be upright targets for litigation - if you can't afford to pay damages or costs, next potential claims will have hard time finding a solicitor who will work for them.


Related Questions: