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Firth v. State

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Citation Edit

Firth v. State, 287 A.D.2d 771, 731 N.Y.S.2d 244 (N.Y. Ct. Claims 2001) (full-text), aff'd, 98 N.Y.2d 365, 775 N.E.2d 463, 747 N.Y.S.2d 69 (2002) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

A report critical of plaintiff was posted on a state governmental agency's website. The plaintiff sued for defamation.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The State successfully moved to dismiss, based on the fact that it had been more than one year since the report was posted online, and the statute of limitations had run on the claim.

Under the "single publication rule":

the publication of a defamatory statement in a single issue of a newspaper, or a single issue of a magazine, although such publication consists of thousands of copies widely distributed, is, in legal effect, one publication which gives rise to one cause of action and that the applicable statute of limitations runs from the date of that publication.[1]

The court held that publication occurred when the document was first posted on the website, not each time a user downloads the document from the site, or each time the website is changed.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the single publication rule applied to publications on the Internet, and that the statute of limitations began to run on the date the report was first posted online.

The plaintiff argued that because the web page on which the report was originally published had been changed during that time period, the allegedly defamatory statements should be deemed to have been republished at the time the web page was modified. The Court of Appeals rejected that position, stating:

The mere addition of unrelated information to a Web site cannot be equated with the repetition of defamatory matter in a separately published edition of a book or newspaper. . . . The justification for the republication exception has no application at all to the addition of unrelated material on a Web site, for it is not reasonably inferable that the addition was made either with the intent or the result of communicating the earlier and separate defamatory information to a new audience.

The Court refused to rule on the question of whether the posting of a link to the defamatory material on a different website would constitute a republication.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Gregoire v. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 298 N.Y. 119, 123, 298 N.Y.2d 119, 81 N.E.2d 45 (1948).

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