The term “newspaper” meant a publication that was printed on inexpensive paper, often daily. Since 1931, “newspapers” have been protected from libel claims by California Civil Code Section 48a, which limited a plaintiff to special damages unless the publisher failed to update the allegedly false information when the plaintiff requested a correction. In light of a recent lawsuit, lawmakers have chosen to revise the law for the 21st century. In the article published by Daily Journal, partner Lee Brenner and associate Andreas Becker explored the significance of the revision and what it means for publishers.
Assembly Bill 998, which will go into effect on January 1, 2016, expands the language of Section 48a to protect online publishers, as well as “newspapers.” The California Legislature introduced the bill after a California Court of Appeal decision, Thieriot v. The Wrapnews, Inc, failed to extend libel protection to the news website TheWrap because it publishes content online.
Governor Jerry Brown approved the bill in September. While the law does not contain language regarding retroactive application, it does represent a shift in libel law and better protection for publishers in the digital age.