Note: This page covers information specific to Georgia and should be read in conjunction with the general section on retraction in the section on Correcting or Retracting Your Work After Publication which has additional information applicable to all states.
Georgia has a retraction statute that applies to libel published in a "newspaper or other publication" ( Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-11) and to a "broadcast" of a slander (Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-12). (The links direct you to the Georgia Code hosted on Lexis Nexis. If you agree with the terms and conditions of the access, click "Ok." Scroll down and click on the circled plus symbol next to "Title 51," and then on the same symbol next to "Chapter 5" where you will find the sections of the Georgia Code mentioned on this page.)
Although the statute does not specifically state whether it covers online publications, it defines the term "publication" as any communication made to any person other than the party libeled. Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-3. This definition stems from the Supreme Court of Georgia's ruling in Mathis v. Cannon, 276 Ga. 16, 28 (2002). The Mathis case is interesting because the court applied the retraction statute to an online publication. The plaintiff, Thomas Cannon, brought suit over Bruce Mathis' allegedly libelous comments in an Internet chat room. Cannon argued that Mathis' failure to seek a retraction prevented Mathis from receiving punitive damages in accordance with the retraction statute; Mathis disagreed arguing that the retraction statute applied to newspapers and print media only and did not apply to statements made in an Internet chat room. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the retraction statute's use of the term "other publication" encompassed any communication made to a third person, regardless of its medium, because:
It treats a publication for purposes of seeking a retraction the same as a publication for purposes of imposing liability. It acknowledges that the legislature extended the retraction defense originally created for newspapers, magazines, and periodicals to include newspapers and “other publications.” It encourages defamation victims to seek self-help, their first remedy, by “using available opportunities to contradict the lie or correct the error and thereby to minimize its adverse impact on reputation.” It eliminates the difficult task of determining what is a “ written publication” and who is the “print media” at a time when any individual with a computer can become a publisher. It supports free speech by extending the same protection to the private individual who speaks on matters of public concern as newspapers and other members of the press now enjoy. In short, it strikes a balance in favor of “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” debate in an age of communications when “anyone, anywhere in the world, with access to the Internet” can address a worldwide audience of readers in cyberspace.
Thus, the Mathis decision allows the publisher of an online publication to benefit from the Georgia retraction statute as long as the publisher complies with the statute's requirements (discussed below).
Handling Requests to Remove or Retract Material in Georgia
If someone contacts you with a retraction request, you should first determine whether a retraction is warranted; review the steps under the handling a retraction request section of this guide for help in making this assessment. If you determine that a retraction is appropriate, you should follow the procedures outlined in the Georgia retraction statute so that you can avail yourself of the statutory benefit of limiting potential defamation damages.
Under the Georgia retraction statute:
- A plaintiff must request a retraction in writing at least seven days prior to the filing a defamation suit.
- Once the publisher receives the retraction request, the publisher must publish the correction, apology, or retraction within seven days, or in the next regular issue of the publication following receipt of the request if the next regular issue was not published within seven days after receiving the request.
- The publisher must correct and retract the statement in "as conspicuous and public a manner" as that of the original statement.
If you comply with these procedures after receiving a retraction request and you are found to be liable for libel, the plaintiff's ability to recover damages from you will be limited. He or she will be able to recover only for his or her actual economic losses and will not be able to recover general damages (e.g., loss of reputation generally) or punitive damages. However, note that in a slander case, the plaintiff's retraction request of a defamatory statement has no bearing on whether the plaintiff's ability to recover punitive damages. See Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-12.
Even if your online publishing activities do not fall within the scope of Georgia's retraction statute, your willingness to correct past errors in your work will provide several benefits. It will make your work more accurate and reliable, which will increase your credibility, influence, and (hopefully) your page views. It will also diminish the likelihood of your being sued in the first place, as it might placate the potential plaintiff. Furthermore, courts and juries may find a retraction shows your good faith, which will benefit you in a defamation suit.