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Congress Considers Reining in Online Defamation Lawsuits

Online Defamation Lawsuits
In April, we told you about the unfortunate plight of Justin Kurtz, a 21-year-old college student who found himself battling defamation charges after creating a group on Facebook to publicize his dissatisfaction with a local towing company. Not long after its birth, the group began growing, with many Kalamazoo, Michigan locals flocking to the forum in order to air their own grievances with the company. Although Kurtz only created the forum to express his discontent with T&J Towing's exorbitant charges, that didn't stop the company from demanding over $750,000 in damages from the student. And, as it turns out, Kurtz isn't alone.

With the rise of social networking, more people have begun flocking to the Internet to vent, rant or complain about local businesses, and, in response, businesses have started taking them to court. But, as the New York Times explains, many lawyers aren't convinced of the legality of these suits, which are commonly known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or "Slapp." The term is often used to describe any frivolous defamation suit, typically filed as a way to bully outspoken citizens into settlement agreements.

Although 27 states currently have anti-Slapp legislation embedded into their constitutions, Congress is now considering implementing a nationwide law to offer similar protection in states without Slapp laws, and to provide a wider safety net in states where the laws are already in place. The bill would make it harder for businesses to file such suits with a federal anti-Slapp law, modeled after the framework adopted by California's legislature.

Mark Goldowitz, director of the California Anti-Slapp Project, helped draft the proposed legislation, which, according to him, is tantamount to freedom of speech protection. "Just as petition and free speech rights are so important that they require specific constitutional protections, they are also important enough to justify uniform national protections against Slapps," Goldowitz explains. Just because we now, thanks to the Internet, have a larger audience with which to communicate, that shouldn't restrict our right to express ourselves -- even if we're expressing criticism. If anything, businesses should welcome this broader form of peer-review, and see it as an opportunity to separate themselves from the competition. [From: New York Times]

Tags: business, congress, defamation, DefamationLawsuit, FirstAmendment, FreeSpeech, law, lawsuit, lawsuits, legislation, slapp, socialnetworking, top, web