republish, libel, defamation, Layne v. Tribune Co., New York Times v. Sullivan, wire service defense


This Comment critiques the legal landscape surrounding republisher liability for defamation and ultimately calls for a more reaching approach to protect against such liability. Historically at common law republishers could be held liable for defamation regardless of whether they attributed the source of the material. However, starting in 1933 courts articulated the “wire service defense” that sought to eliminate liability for republishers when they “republished a wire story from a generally recognized reliable source of daily news.” Subsequent to the 1933 Florida court’s articulation of the defense many jurisdictions have adopted it. New York stands out as one of the jurisdictions that has not accepted the “wire service defense.” Instead, New York adopts a qualified privilege for republishers. The major difference between New York’s qualified privilege and the traditional “wire service defense” is that New York law is not limited to media organizations; instead, it also allows non-traditional media entities like public relations companies to successfully invoke the privilege when they rely on clients as reliable sources when preparing releases. While the “wire service defense” and New York’s qualified privilege offer republishers a degree of protection from liability for defamation, according to the author of the Comment the protection does not go far enough. In order to adequately immunize republishers from liability the Comment argues that the law should impose a presumption against holding all republishers liable, which can only be overcome if the plaintiff shows actual malice. This would strike the proper balance between adequately servicing society's need for news and the plaintiff's right to recover for defamation.

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