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MEDIA LAW an internet network operator may be liable for distributing a third party’s allegedly libelous e-mail on a Web site and listserv, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on June 24. Batzel v. Smith, No. 01-56380. In 1999, a handyman working on a client’s North Carolina home sent an e-mail to the online Museum Security Network, explaining why he believed that the homeowner, a California lawyer, had paintings looted by the Nazis during World War II. The note was received by Ton Cremers, head of security for the Netherlands’ Rijksmuseum and operator of the network. Cremers edited the note, published it on the Web site and distributed it via the network’s listserv. Denying the handyman’s claims and asserting that she had been defamed, the homeowner filed suit in a California federal court. Cremers moved to dismiss. When the district court denied the motion, he appealed. The 9th Circuit remanded the case for determination of whether Cremers had reasonably concluded that the handyman’s message was meant for Web dissemination. It explained that under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Cremers would be protected from liability if he was guilty only of publishing a defamatory statement made by a third party who intended to publish the statement on the Internet. Absent that intent, Cremers could be liable for repeating a defamatory statement he did not author.

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