Legal Issues and Answers for Report Authors
is written or spoken injury to the reputation of a living person
Injury to reputation generally is
considered to be exposure to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or financial
loss. Libel is the written act of defamation; slander is the spoken
act. Whether libel or slander, the defamation must be published – communicated
to someone other than the subject of the defamation. Truth is generally
an absolute defense to defamation: if what you say is true, it
cannot be defamatory. Another defense to defamation is proving
that the statement was an opinion, not an assertion of a fact.
Is Word-of-Mouth.org a publisher for purposes of defamation law?
Word-of-Mouth.org does not actually post any information on
its site other than
name and address, etc. of an individual. All
additional information about an individual – positive or
negative -- is created and communicated directly by one individual
to another through our anonymous emailing system. Further, § 230
of the Communications Decency Act states: "No provider or
user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the
publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information
content provider." 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1).2 Accordingly,
any information transmitted through Word-of-Mouth.org’s email
system is the responsibility of the author of the email only.
Do you maintain a database of names and addresses of site users?
we keep that information in a database in order to identify
each other, just
as any phone directory or online information
service, such as Infospace.com.
What laws regulate your database?
are numerous federal and state laws that regulate databases
of government agencies, financial and credit institutions, educational
institutions, and health care providers. Word-of-Mouth.org, however,
is not covered by any of these laws.
What information must you disclose to me?
is not covered by consumer credit laws (we maintain no financial
information) and has no legal obligation to inform
the subject of a report whether anyone has inquired about them – no
more than the phone company has an obligation to tell you when
someone calling “411” has asked for your phone number.
information do you disclose to third parties?
do not sell or rent any personal information about you to
any third party.
does not allow third parties to send promotional email to
its users without such user's consent. Word-of-Mouth.org
may send administrative emails to confirm user registrations
or to update users concerning new services or opportunities
Word-of-Mouth.org cooperates with all law enforcement inquiries and with all
third parties to enforce their intellectual property or other rights. Unfortunately,
due to the existing regulatory environment, we cannot ensure that all of your
private communications and other personally identifiable information will never
we may be forced to disclose information about you to law enforcement or other
government officials as we, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate.
Therefore, although we use industry standard practices to protect your privacy,
we do not promise, and you should not expect, that your personally identifiable
information or private communications will remain private.
of Word-of-Mouth.Org users.
users are anonymous. The Supreme Court of
the United States
has ruled that anonymity of speech is protected
under the First Amendment to the Constitution (see McIntyre v.
Ohio, 514 U.S. at 337; Talley v. State of California, 362 U.S.
60). United States courts also have consistently recognized that
the right to speak anonymously extends to speech on the Internet.
Where courts have ordered disclosure of the name of an anonymous
user, they have required a litigant to show that its need for identifying
information outweighs the user’s constitutional rights before
a subpoena is issued. WoM respects this right to anonymity (see
Word-of-Mouth.Org user to anyone without the user’s
permission or under a valid court order.
What is spam?
the definition of unsolicited commercial messages (UCE), otherwise
known as “spam,” varies from state
to state and country to country. Almost all definitions, however,
require that the email be a) of a commercial nature, and b) transmitted
to a large number of recipients (“bulk”) to qualify
What laws govern spam?
Currently there are no U.S. federal laws governing spam. It is,
of course, a hotly debated topic. There are a patchwork of states
that regulate UCE: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware,
Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada,
Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington,
and West Virginia. Most laws are opt-out, meaning companies can
legally send UCE one time as long as certain procedures are followed.
is “Commercial” Mail?
In general, commercial mail is a message that wants to sell you
How Many Messages is Bulk?
As a rough rule of thumb, if a human makes a conscious and informed
decision, on a message by message and recipient by recipient basis,
that the individual message should be sent to that individual recipient,
it is not bulk. If a sender has an existing relationship or a genuine
business or personal purpose for sending the individual email,
it is not bulk.
Does Word-of-Mouth.org send spam?
Word-of-Mouth.org does send an initial unsolicited email to
the subject of an "Word-of-Mouth
Report". This email, however, is
not spam because a) there is no commercial aspect (the recipient
is not required to pay anything to learn whether there has been
any information filed about that person); and b) it is not “bulk” mail
because it is directed at ONE specific individual for a specific