Internet jurisdiction is a mishmash of theories that provide little predictability. However, I have often argued that when it comes to defamation actions, the rule should be that jurisdiction is only proper where the publication took place.
Think about it. Lets say that you have a blogger in a civilized state, like Oregon, that protects free speech to an extent greater than that required by the First Amendment. Said blogger is used to exercising his free speech rights as if his rights were protected by Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution. He writes about someone in Florida, which is generally not very protective of Free Speech rights. Should the speech be subject to Florida’s standards Oregon’s? If you believe that the state where the subject of the defamation is located should have jurisdiction, you haven’t thought the issue through. Imagine a travel writer in Maine, writing about hotel stays on a 50-state tour. Would he properly be hauled into court in each and every state if the hotel owners found the reviews to be unflattering? What would that do to our notions of free expression?
Just as importantly, should a censorship-monkey who wants to silence the speaker be permitted to drag him all the way across the country to defend his actions? That alone would create a deathly chilling effect. I don’t often write about Microsoft, but what if I did? Should I have to presume that I will wind up in court in Seattle?
Fortunately, courts seem to be consistent when it comes to internet jurisdiction in defamation actions. The Second Circuit is the highest court to rule on this issue so far. It held in Best Van Lines v. Walker that New York’s long-arm statute did not permit New York courts to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant who published his opinions in Iowa. This is a well-reasoned case, and the latest in a good trend. Lets hope that the trend continues so that when censorship-monkeys want to try and silence someone and defile the First Amendment, then the censorship-monkeys should be the ones inconvenienced — not the citizen who is exercising his First Amendment protected right to free speech.
Lexington v. Siskind. This was a Florida Circuit Case where a builder, Lexington Homes, tried to haul a New Yorker down here to defend his criticism of the company.
Dring v. Sullivan. Same principles, successfully argued by Jon Katz.