Wednesday, January 03, 2007

History Channel’s Airing of “Beyond the Da Vinci Code” Did Not Defame Member of the Catholic Church

In December of 2005, The History Channel aired a program entitled, “Beyond the Da Vinci Code,” (“Program”) which explored the theories set forth in Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. Shortly after the program aired, Walter Viola brought an action against A&E and its officers on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic faithful alleging defamation and violations of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), the Child Online Protection Act (“COPA”) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (“RICO”).

The District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis of Plaintiff’s failure to state a claim as a matter of law.

As to the defamation claim, the court found that Plaintiff failed to allege that he was personally defamed or that his reputation or ability to associate with third persons was harmed as a result of A&E airing the Program. Furthermore, the court did not find that Plaintiff established the requisite standing to bring suit on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church and its numerous members around the world.

With regards to both claims under the CDA and COPA, the court agreed that the statutes imposed criminal liability for certain activities, however, did not find that these statutes allowed enforcement by a private individual as Plaintiff had asserted in this case.

Finally, the court held that Plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to state a RICO violation. More specifically, Plaintiff’s complaint involved a single airing of the Program and that was insufficient to establish a “pattern” of racketeering as is defined by the statute.

Viola v. A & E Television Networks, 433 F.Supp.2d 613 (2006) (See also

Republishing Defamatory Statements on the Internet is Protected Under the Communications Decency Act

Dr. Stephen J. Barrett and Dr. Terry Polevoy brought suit against Ilena Rosenthal for libel by maliciously distributing defamatory statements in e-mails and Internet postings on her website. Plaintiffs’ website was used to expose health fraud and Defendant allegedly republished several messages impugning their character and competence even after she was warned that the messages contained false and defamatory information.

The Court of Appeal vacated the trial court’s motion to strike under the anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation statute (Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16), as applied to one Plaintiff, holding that 47 U.S.C. § 230 applied to Defendant as a “distributor” under the common law of defamation.

The Supreme Court of California reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal holding that § 230 prohibits “distributor” liability for Internet publications and that section (c)(1) of the Act immunizes individual users of interactive computer services and that no line can be drawn between active and passive use.

The Court stressed the fact that the holding of the Court of Appeals would cause a heavy burden on and tend to chill Internet speech.

Barrett v. Rosenthal, 40 Cal.4th 33 (2006) (See also