By Pat Loeb
TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that state slander and libel laws cover Internet postings, and people defamed on the web can sue for damages.
The ruling came in the case of an Atlantic County, NJ man who’s been fighting sexual abuse charges by his nephew for more than a decade.
Wayne Anderson was cleared of the sex abuse charges and awarded $50,000 for defamation, but in 2007 — nine years after the original case — his nephew took the charges to the web, creating a site that not only repeated the abuse claim but threw in charges of perjury and witness intimidation.
A trial judge agreed that the site was defamatory but said there was no evidence that Anderson had been damaged, no evidence anyone had even seen the site.
Attorney Peter Boyer of the Marlton, NJ firm Hyland Levin says the high court ruling makes it clear that web users have to follow the same libel rules as everyone else.
“Courts are struggling with application of longstanding principles of law to transmissions over the Internet,” Boyer explains, “and the court is saying, no matter how you do it, you can be held accountable if what you say defames a person.”
Neither Anderson nor his nephew could be reached for comment.