Originally created 04/23/98

Judge dismisses AOL in Drudge suit



WASHINGTON -- Saying Internet service providers are exempt from the same laws that hold newspapers, magazines and broadcasters accountable for information they carry, a federal judge has dismissed America Online as a defendant in a White House adviser's $30 million defamation suit.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled Wednesday that Congress exempted AOL and other interactive computer services from such lawsuits when it passed the Decency Act of 1996.

White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal and his wife, Jacqueline, who runs the White House fellows program, sued AOL and online gossip columnist Matt Drudge over a report last August that said Blumenthal had a "spousal abuse past."

Drudge, whose report appears on his own web site available through AOL, retracted the item the next day and apologized. But the Blumenthals accused him and AOL, which pays Drudge $3,000 a month, of recklessness and sued them for $30 million.

In a 28-page ruling, Friedman wrote that the "information revolution" has created such intense competition among journalists and news organizations "for instant news, rumors and other information that is communicated so quickly that it is too often unchecked or unverified."

"Whether wisely or not," The Washington Post quoted Friedman's ruling as saying, Congress "made the legislative judgment to effectively immunize providers of interactive computer services from civil liability ... with respect to material disseminated by them but created by others."