When posting comments online, it is of course very important to be careful not to defame (i.e. publish false and damaging information) individuals or companies. However, if you were to post such information either accidentally or intentionally, how long after the posting could you be sued? In most states, a suit for defamation must be filed within one year of the publication. However, internet postings have some unique technical issues, in that a posting could be considered published anew every time it is accessed by a viewer. If the courts were to consider each viewing a “publication,” the statute of limitations for internet defamation could be indefinite.
While not all jurisdictions have considered the matter, the courts in many jurisdictions have determined that an internet posting is “published” only once – at the time of its initial posting. Subsequent viewings do not in and of themselves act to extend the statutue of limitations – although specific actions on the part of the publisher to give the posting a wider audience, such as republishing the posting on a different site could act to extend the limitations period. Therefore, in those jurisdictions adopting this view, you can only typically be sued up to a year after the posting. However, the law in this area is not settled in all jurisdictions, and again it is particularly important to craft internet postings carefully, to avoid liabilty for any statements that could be perceived as false and damaging.
Michael L. Kitchen
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