• Georgia Court Holds "Single Publication Rule" Applies To Internet Postings
  • March 8, 2005
  • Law Firm: Frost Brown Todd LLC - Louisville Office
  • Defamation Claim Barred by Statute of Limitations
    On January 8, 2004, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the single publication rule applies to internet postings. As a result, a defamation claim brought against the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which was filed more than one year after the allegedly defamatory materials were first published on the newspaper's web site, was barred by the statute of limitations. McCandliss v. Cox Enterprises, Inc., GA Ct. App. No. A04A0361.

    In this case, plaintiff Scott McCandliss filed a complaint asserting several claims resulting from the publication of allegedly libelous material on the web site of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. McCandliss was the founder of Hipsters, a social club whose main function was "to provide social gatherings that included size positive spectacles for persons of size and those who support them in the form of an atmosphere conducive to interaction and camaraderie, usually including a bar, music and dancing." At the first such Hipsters spectacle, a lingerie show with plus sized models was held. Pictures of one of the models, along with an article about Hipsters written by McCandliss under a pseudonym, was later published without the model's knowledge or permission in an adult magazine. As a result, the model sued McCandliss and the magazine for the unauthorized publication of her pictures and the Atlanta Journal Constitution covered that story. In an article published on September 7, 2000, the Journal Constitution wrote, "The Hipster party in metro Atlanta was noted on the cover of [certain magazine]: Five Thousand Pounds of Sex-Starved Fatties." A similar statement was published in a follow-up article on November 7, 2000. Shortly after each article was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, it was placed in the articles archive in the newspaper's internet web site. Approximately two years later, on November 7, 2002, McCandliss filed suit against the Atlanta Journal Constitution arguing that the newspaper improperly attributed the caption from the cover of the magazine to Hipsters. McCandliss claimed in his suit that the newspaper libeled him, placed him in a false light, and negligently published the statement about Hipsters without verifying the underlying facts.

    The Atlanta Journal Constitution filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was barred by the one year statute of limitations applicable to claims of defamation. The trial court agreed and dismissed McCandliss' lawsuit. McCandliss appealed, contending the trial court erred by applying the single publication rule to the newspaper's internet postings. The Georgia Court of Appeals disagreed.

    In its ruling affirming the dismissal, the court of appeals held that the purpose of the single publication rule is to protect newspaper defendants and the courts from a multiplicity of suits and an almost endless tolling of the statute of limitations. Its goals can be accomplished by requiring a plaintiff to collect all of his damages in one action, and establish that the statute of limitations is to run from the date of initial publication. McCandliss argued, nevertheless, that the single publication rule should not be applied to copies of the articles about Hipsters which were placed in the archive section of the newspaper's internet web site. McCandliss argued that each "hit" or viewing of the article should be considered a new publication that re-triggered the statute of limitations. The court of appeals found that this argument lacked merit. The court went on to find that communications accessible over a public web site resemble those contained in a traditional mass media, only on a far grander scale. Communications posted on web sites may be viewed by thousands, if not millions, over an expansive geographic area for an indefinite period of time. Thus, according to the court, a multiple publication rule would implicate an even greater potential for endless re-triggering of the statute of limitations, multiplicity of suits, and harassment of media defendants. Inevitably, there would be a serious inhibitory affect on the open, pervasive dissemination of information and ideas over the internet. Thus, the court held that the single publication rule applied and affirmed the dismissal of the complaint.