Media Law Prof Blog

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Louisiana State Univ.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fifth Circuit Rules That Single Publication Rule Applies to Internet

Nationwide Bi-Weekly Mortgage brought defamation and various other claims against Belo Corporation, The Dallas Morning News, and one of its reporters because of a 2004 article that appeared in the News concerning Nationwide's business practices. The article also appeared on the News's website. For various reasons, Nationwide did not serve the defendants until 2005. The court granted the defendants' 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Nationwide, however, claimed that because the article also appeared on the News website, "each time a viewer accesses the article from the website, a `republication' occurs for statute of limitation purposes. This concept, widely argued but virtually always rejected, is referred to as the `continuous publication rule.'"

The case is one of first impression. "As mentioned, Texas applies the single publication rule to libel cases involving mass media publications....However, Texas courts have not yet considered whether the single publication rule should apply to Internet publications. Accordingly, this court is `required to follow the rule we believe the Texas Supreme Court would adopt.' We may also consider Texas public policy interests."

After considering the rule in other jurisdictions, the court said, "Based on the near unanimity of the large number of courts to apply the single publication rule to Internet publications, the fact that the only case to hold otherwise...is distinguishable, and because sound policy reasons support its application in this context, we hold that the Texas Supreme Court would likely adopt the single publication rule for Internet publications. Applying the single publication rule here, the statute of limitations began to run on July 29, 2003, the date the initial print publication was complete....The only remaining issue is whether posting the article on The Dallas Morning News website constituted a republication giving rise to a new statute of limitations. As noted above, the single publication rule provides that when an allegedly defamatory statement is published in a new format, such as when a hardcover book is republished in paperback form, it is considered "republished" and the statute of limitations begins to run from the date of republication....We need not decide whether posting this article on the Dallas Morning News website constituted a republication because, even if it did, dismissal was appropriate. If the posting of the article on the website resulted in a republication, the statute of limitations would begin to run from the date it was posted. Here it is almost certain that the article was posted...shortly after it appeared in the print edition, but the exact date of posting is not in the record. However, Nationwide concedes...that the article was available online on April 4, 2004....Even assuming that the first day the article was available on the website was April 4, 2004, Nationwide's suit is time-barred."

Read the entire opinion here.

The case is Nationwide Bi-Weekly Administration v. Belo Corp., No. 06-11283, 35 Med. L. Rptr. 1065(U.S.C.A. 5th Cir.)(Dec. 21, 2007).

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