RealTime IT News

Prodigy Libel Suit Dismissed

Prodigy Communications Corp. Monday said that a New York Appellate Court has found the ISP not responsible for a rogue member's misuse of its service.

Prodigy member Alexander Lunney said an unidentified person impersonated him, sending profane e-mail and bulletin board messages bearing Lunney's signature. Lunney maintained Prodigy failed to take appropriate action in the incident.

In its unanimous decision, the court labeled the perpetrator as "some infantile practical joker with access to a computer," and said that "the charade was, as they say, crude but effective," but "Prodigy cannot be held legally responsible for it."

Citing prior rulings protecting telephone and telegraph companies, the court noted "Prodigy had no participatory function" in the transmission of the offensive messages."

"Even a telecommunications company, which in some measure participates in the transmission of a libelous message, cannot be held liable unless it knew that the message was in fact libelous -- a circumstance which will rarely, if ever, be proved. The common law privilege which benefits telegraph companies must apply to Internet service providers as well. E-mail is, in substance, nothing but an updated version of the telegraph."

Claiming victory, Marc Jacobson, Prodigy's senior vice president for corporate development and public policy said the decision confirms the Internet is a medium where freedom of expression is supported and encouraged.

"The court also made clear that Prodigy is not a publisher of e-mail sent through its system or messages posted on electronic bulletin boards."

Prodigy counsel Michael J. Silverberg, of Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon LLP went further.

"If Internet service providers were required to screen all transmissions for possibly libelous content, the field of online communications would come to a halt. This well-reasoned decision rejects that scenario and lays down the clear principle that providers are not liable for a transmission when they do not participate in it actively or actually know it is false."