January 23, 2013
Online publishers given free speech protections in Iowa
by Ariel Bogle
A decision by the Iowa Supreme Court has extended free speech protections to those that produce content online, including internet publishers.
According to the Associated Press, the case was brought to trial after Scott Weier published a memoir in 2008. He used Author Solutions, Inc., an online publisher, to create the book. Not long after, Beth Weier, his ex-wife, and her father sued Weier and the publisher for defamation. They claimed that the book defamed her by stating that she had a mental illness and was a bad mother.
At first, the court prevented Weier from distributing the books and ruled that neither the author nor Author Solutions had the free speech protections of traditional media. On appeal however, the publisher was dismissed from the law suit, although Weier may still be sued.
Essentially, what this means is that in Iowa, the legal definition of “media” was expanded. Now, free speech protections are given to “people or companies that receive writings and makes them more suitable and accessible for the public to read,” including online publishers that facilitate self publishing, according to the ruling.
Nevertheless, individuals do not receive media protection.
“University of Iowa journalism professor Lyombe Eko said the court “has given protection to people who are bullied on the Internet, the victims of smears or lies or accusations posted on Facebook and Twitter.” People will be able to sue the attacker, but not the company that hosts the site where the statements are posted, he said.”
Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.