Section 230 Protects Emailing an Article–Monge v. University of Pennsylvania

This case involves an article that allegedly defamed Dr. Janet Monge. Dr. Deborah Thomas, a Penn professor, forwarded the article to an email list run by the American Black Anthropologists. Dr. Monge sued Dr. Thomas (and many other defendants). For more background on this complex case, see this opinion. In this ruling, Dr. Thomas successfully invoked Section 230.

(Note: it’s unclear if Dr. Thomas forwarded a third party’s email that included the article, or if she wrote a new email that included the allegedly defamatory article. It’s also unclear if Dr. Thomas’ email linked to the article or included its full text. None of those facts would affect Section 230’s application).

From a Section 230 standpoint, this is an easy case. Numerous cases have applied Section 230 to email forwarding of third-party content, and this case fits snugly into the genre. Thus, the judge says that courts have “consistently held that distributing, sharing, and forwarding content created and/or developed by a third party is conduct immunized by the CDA.” Cites to Green v. AOL, Obado v. Magedson, Peters v. LifeLock, Mitan v. A. Neumann, Novins v. Cannon, Phan v. Pham.

To get around this, Dr. Monge argued that Dr. Thomas materially contributed to the defamation due to the other remarks in her email. This doesn’t work because “Dr. Thomas did not add anything new to the articles, or materially modify them, when she shared them via email….All Dr. Thomas did was share the articles via email with her opinion, based on the content of the articles, that Dr. Monge had improperly handled the remains.” Cites to Batzel, Phan,

This is a good example of how Section 230 benefits online users, not just “Big Tech.” Dr. Thomas gets the same legal protection as Google and Facebook, even though she’s didn’t operate any system at all.

It’s also a reminder of how Section 230 currently protects the promotion of content, in addition to the hosting of it. That aspect remains pending with the US Supreme Court.

Case citation: Monge v. University of Pennsylvania, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40724 (E.D. Pa. March 10, 2023)

Prior Blog Posts on Email Forwarding and Related Activities

Section 230 Protects a User Sharing an Allegedly Defamatory Facebook Event–AH v. Labana
Another Court Says Section 230 Applies to Retweeting–Holmok v. Burke
Section 230 Protects Retweeting–Banaian v. Bascom
Section 230 Doesn’t Apply to Publication of Private Emails–Crowley v. Faison
Section 230 Doesn’t Protect Quote-Tweeting–US Dominion v. Byrne
First Circuit Says Mirroring Qualifies for Section 230–Monsarrat v. Newman
Mirroring Qualifies for Section 230–Monsarrat v. Newman
Judge Balks At Section 230 Protection For Email Forwarding–Samsel v. DeSoto County School District
Section 230 Doesn’t Protect Email Forwarding of Screenshotted Tweets?–Maxfield v. Maxfield
Another Case Says No Liability for Linking to Allegedly Defamatory Content, Plus a Recap (Guest Blog Post)
Section 230 Immunizes Links to Defamatory Third Party Content–Directory Assistants v. Supermedia
Emailing the URL of an Allegedly Defamatory Post Immunized by 47 USC 230–Shrader v. Biddinger
Forwarding Defamatory Email Immunized by 47 USC 230–Mitan v. A. Neumann
Forwarding Defamatory Email with Introductory Comments Protected by 47 USC 230–Phan v. Pham
Online Defamation Action Can Have Only One Defendant–Novins v. Cannon
Republishing Solicited Email May Not Qualify for 47 USC 230 Immunization–Woodhull v. Meinel
Barrett v. Rosenthal–California Issues Terrific Defense-Favorable Interpretation of 47 USC 230
Griper Gets 47 USC 230 Defense for Reposted Article–D’Alonzo v. Truscello
Batzel v. Smith Dismissal

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