Johnson v. Barras

EFF and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the National Capital Area asked a Washington D.C. court to dismiss claims against a nonprofit watchdog organization and its operators arguing that federal law and the First Amendment protect them from liability in a defamation lawsuit.

In articles printed in an online newsletter and discussion forum published by DCWatch (a government watchdog organization) journalist Jonetta Rose Barras reported that Roslyn Johnson had inflated her employment and salary history to secure her job as Deputy Director of Programs for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. A subsequent formal investigation by the D.C. Inspector General concluded that Johnson did in fact submit an inflated resume and was improperly hired for her position. But in a lawsuit filed earlier this year Johnson claims that these articles were defamatory placed her in a false light and resulted in the termination of her employment with the city. In addition to suing reporter Barras she also sued DCWatch and its operators claiming that their Internet publication of these articles made them responsible for their content.

EFF and the ACLU of the National Capital Area filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit pointing out that DCWatch and its operators are shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which expressly protects providers or users of interactive computer services from liability in order to encourage robust debate in online discussions. The motion also urged the court to dismiss Johnson's claims because the First Amendment protects statements about public officials that are substantially true. The court agreed that the Communications Decency Act likely barred the suit but gave Johnson an opportunity to conduct limited discovery on the issue of whether Barras had written and published the articles as an agent of DCWatch. Finding no support for that conclusion Johnson voluntarily dismissed her claims against DCWatch and its operators.

Stay in Touch

NSA Spying

EFF is leading the fight against the NSA's illegal mass surveillance program. Learn more about what the program is, how it works, and what you can do.

Follow EFF

Pls plan to call your House Rep Monday, "vote no FCC privacy repeal" If your rep is Republican, ask 5 friends too

Mar 24 @ 4:18pm

A loophole in Australia's copyright safe harbor rules will stay open, endangering local user-generated content sites

Mar 24 @ 1:37pm

In all, @agcrocker addressed the appeals court on NSLs for more than 25 minutes. Here's the full recording.

Mar 24 @ 1:09pm
JavaScript license information