They Never Go Away

I posted yesterday about the dilemma posed by incorrect tweets – do you just correct them, so that the original incorrect tweet continues to bounce around in cyberspace? Or do you try to eliminate them altogether. I saw this article about the legal consequences that may flow from the zombie like staying power of online posts. The father of Chris Purtz is suing the Daily Californian’s editor and president in a Fresno, California small claims court, claiming that the defendants caused him emotional distress. How? By failing to remove an article and two blog posts from 2006 and 2007 that are still available from the paper’s online archive. The article and posts concern the activities of Purtz, a former Cal football player, who apparently was involved in a fight at a San Francisco night club back in the fall of 2006. Chris Purtz is dead, but the father claims the posts “inflict harm” on his son’s memory. This could be a tough case. First, there’s a statute of limitations which has probably run. Typically a defamation suit needs to be filed within a year of publication. This is way past that. And trying to argue that the wrongful act is the failure to remove the post seems like a real stretch. Second, it’s not clear that there was anything false in the original reporting. The facts may tarnish Purtz’s memory, but if they’re true, the suit should fail. Third, typically libel suits can’t be brought on behalf of dead people. Again, Purtz’s dad can call it what he wants, but no matter what you call it, a suit based on a publication is libel. And that claim typically expires when the subject dies. This case is a cautionary tale I think. Let’s not radically change the law just because technology advances. Old newspaper clippings have always been available. Microfilm has been around since before I was a kid. And the law seemed to work okay. It doesn’t need to change just because the old clippings are more easily accessible.