Maybe some angry person has threatened to sue you for defamation based on something you wrote online. Maybe you're following a story about such a threat and want to understand First Amendment law better. Maybe you're feeling tempted to threaten someone, and you want to know if you have a claim. You've come to the right place! This page is a collection of resources we've found helpful in dealing with legal threats premised on online speech. These resources necessarily focus on the laws of the United States, which is our focus at Popehat.
General Legal Guides
The Digital Media Law Project's Legal Guide provides well-written and helpful guidance the law governing online expression, including defamation, intellectual property, and minimizing risks of liability.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a broad and helpful legal guide for bloggers that's useful to anyone who posts content online.
The Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press offers a Digital Journalist's Legal Guide aimed at journalism.
The Student Press Law Center offers a legal guides aimed at high school and college students but useful to all.
The Foundation for Individual Rights In Education provides legal guides designed for university students.
Public Citizen has a series of very useful legal guides, and is particularly helpful on the subject of the right to anonymity.
Anti-SLAPP Statutes: Making It Harder To Sue You For Speech
State Anti-SLAPP statutes provide a useful legal mechanism for defendants to dismiss lawsuits targeting protected speech, and to force a plaintiff to pay attorney fees.
I explained how the statutes work, and why they are important, here.
The Public Participation Project has much more information on Anti-SLAPP statutes, including a list that will help you figure out if your state has one.
Intellectual Property: Copyright and Trademark Claims, Fair Use and Parody Defenses, Digital Millennium Copyright Act Takedown Notices
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers a "safe harbor" that allows web sites to escape liability for posting copyrighted works if they follow certain procedures and respond to takedown notices. Unfortunately, bogus takedown notices are now a common form of attempted censorship. The site Chilling Effects offers excellent resources for understanding the DMCA and how to respond to DMCA notices.
Section 230: Protecting Sites From Liability For Comments
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects web sites of all sorts from being held liable for the speech of their visitors. Put simply, under Section 230 you can't be sued for defamation for content you don't provide. A blogger, for instance, can't be held liable for defamation by a commenter. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an apt guide, as does the Digital Media Law Project.
The SPEECH Act: Protecting Americans From Censorious Foreign Judgments
The SPEECH Act, passed in 2010, protects Americans from libel tourism. In brief, it prevents American courts from enforcing foreign judgments targeting speech unless those judgments were reached using protections similar to what America offers. Public Citizen's explanation of the law and its significance is here. I described it here.
Other Resource Lists
The UNC Center for Media Law & Policy has a helpful list of free speech resources.
How To React To A Legal Threat — Or How To Make One Correctly
I've also offered thoughts on how to write a request to remove or change online content you think is false and defamatory.