Newspapers could risk lawsuits in other states or far-off countries by posting artides on their Web sites if more courts adopt the rationale of two recent rulings.
The decisions - one in Virginia and one in Australia - allowed plaintiffs in libel suits to haul out-of-state newspapers into courts in the plaintiffs' home jurisdiction merely because an allegedly defamatory article was posted on the Internet and was available to Web surfers in that jurisdiction.
In the Virginia case, two Connecticut newspapers, The Hartford Courant and the New Haven Advocate, posted articles on their Web sites about Connecticut's practice of sending inmates to Virginia prisons, where the transferred inmates complained that guards used unnecessary force and spoke to them in racist terms. The reporters did not travel to Virginia and made only a few phone calls to Virginia for interviews. The Advocate had no subscribers in Virginia, while the Courant had eight.
Despite contacts between the newspapers and Virginia that their attorneys described as "virtually nil," U.S. District Judge Glen M. Williams in Big Stone Gap, Va., ruled in August 2001 that the Virginia prison warden could sue the newspapers and their reporters for libel in Virginia. He reasoned that jurisdiction in Virginia was proper because the articles were on Web sites "accessible twenty-four hours a day in Virginia." (Young v. New Haven Advocate)
In the Australia case, a Victoria Supreme Court judge ruled in August 2001 that Dow Jones & Co., the New Jerseybased publisher of Barron's magazine, could be sued for defamation in Australia for a Barron's article that was posted on the Internet and was accessible to subscribers in Australia. The Australian businessman who was the subject of the article sued in Victoria, claiming that the article defamed him by implying that he was a money launderer and tax evader.
The Australian judge ruled that the article was published in Australia when Web users downloaded it, not in New Jersey where Dow Jones posted the article. This gave the Victoria court …