The explosion of the many uses of the Internet has produced a variety of innovative actions which have not been popular with many individuals and companies. One of these is the right of the consumer to post their dissatisfaction regarding a company or products that have not turned out to be as advertised. This has been a great deal of assistance to consumers who previously had no way of finding out if something was “as advertised.”
Both the United States government, and several states, has laws regarding the right of consumers to express their opinion concerning any product or company that is available on the Internet. This protection is listed under the Communications Decency Act. 47, section 230 (CDA 230). This section of the Federal Code immunizes discussion site owners against comments made by what consumers provided on such sites.
In California there is a code covering this area called the Anti-SLAPP Bill. First enacted in 1992, it has had a number of amendments. It specifically states that it involves disputes involving matters of ‘public interest’ and, in 1997, construed application of the statute disputes and listed its intent as applying that ‘any conduct in furtherance to the rights of petition or free speech is protected from civil liability’.
Further amendments were added giving the person being protected to challenge adverse trial court decision. The Code of Civil Procedure section 425.18 allows SLAPP victims to recover their damages through what is called a SLAPPBACK (malicious prosecution) against the SLAPP petitioners and their attorneys. This has been found illegal in many cases as a matter of law. Of course, the SLAPP must not be illegal under federal or state law either.
One of the interesting sections of the California Anti-SLAPP law is that it states that a person who successfully challenges a court action can use this law even if the lawsuit is filed in another state and is entitled to recover their attorney fees. In particular, it defines privileged publication or broadcast and immunizes participants in official litigation against official proceedings and all tort actions.
Freedom of speech has long been a law in the United States. Being able to state one’s opinion regarding a company or product is paramount to the basis of liberty. Countries who have cut off this method of public communication have found that it has lead to disastrous consequences. With the Internet it has been possible to quickly dispense information that affects many lives and enables people to have a better way of life.
A number of companies, unhappy with these methods of communication, such as blogs, have brought various lawsuits to eliminate any site that is detrimental to their products or company. Thanks to the United States Code, and codes in various states, they have not been able to prevail.
Under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also called the international human rights law (ICCPR) freedom of speech is recognized as a human right and the right to hold opinions without interference. This freedom of speech is recognized in European, inter-American and African regional human rights laws.
Unfortunately, many people using the Internet to express an opinion, that is not illegal, are unaware of the laws regarding this right. As a result many have been threatened by lawyers and have closed down their sites, because of this ignorance. Everyone using the Internet for this purpose needs to read and understand their rights.