August 21, 2012
“SLAPP” is the acronym for, strategic lawsuit against public participation. State SLAPP laws are intended to prevent individuals and organizations from using lawsuits to inhibit or block the expression of information which has public value. Although these laws have been in effect in several states for years, SLAPP laws take on added significance in today’s world of widespread electronic communications.
A common strategy applied to try to silence individuals or groups who are critics or who possess embarrassing information is to sue them. Lawsuits based on claims of defamation, commercial torts, intellectual property infringement, or a variety of other legal arguments are sometimes used as methods of preventing public disclosure of critical or embarrassing information.
States including Californiaand New Yorkhave laws in place that limit the ability of parties to use legal claims to prevent disclosure of information that is of value to the public. These SLAPP laws are designed to combat the potential chilling effects of litigation.
The threat of lawsuits can often serve as a significant barrier to public release of important information. The mere prospect of litigation and the significant investment of resources required to defend against lawsuits can be enough to prevent parties from disclosing information that could have notable value to the public interest. Strategic lawsuits can serve as a barrier to important public disclosures even if the legal claims upon which they are based are weak.
SLAPP laws provide legal rights for parties who want to make information disclosures that are important to the public. They enable parties disclosing important information to recover financial compensation if those parties are the target of SLAPP activities.
SLAPP laws play a vital role in the age of electronic communications. The Internet and other widely accessible information and communications networks provide the forum of choice for rapid and widespread public disclosure of information.
Increasingly, electronic communications are the target of SLAPPs. Legal efforts against the abuse of litigation have always been important, and they have become even more significant in the digital age.
Realization of the full public benefits of modern information and communications systems requires effective protection of digital speech. The chilling effects associated with widespread use of strategic lawsuits could undermine the utility of Internet-based communications.
SLAPP laws make a vital contribution to the value of electronic communications networks. Their importance will increase as digital networks expand.
All jurisdictions should implement measures to limit abuse of strategic litigation, and they should ensure that those measures are adequate to address the special challenges associated with electronic communications.