Practical Tips for Handling Requests to Correct or Remove Material

While you can't always eliminate your legal risks when publishing online, there are a number of ways you can minimize your risk of being on the receiving end of an lawsuit if you publish incorrect information. Some suggestions include:

  • Have a correction/retraction policy: Your willingness to correct past errors in your work will provide a number of benefits. It will make your work more accurate and reliable which will increase your credibility and reduce the likelihood of your being sued. Additionally, you will have an established procedure to follow should you receive a request for a retraction or a threat of a lawsuit, which is especially important if you have a short timeframe in which to make a decision. Furthermore, while you cannot reduce your legal risks entirely, courts and juries may find that your retraction policy shows your good faith, which will benefit you in a defamation lawsuit. For sample policies, the Oklahoma Press Association's Legal Services Plan (LSP) Committee has two terrific suggestions for a Retraction Policy and a Corrections Policy to institute for your work.

  • If you receive a correction/retraction request, you should:
    1. Determine whether you are covered by your state's retraction law, if it has one. See the section on State Law: Retractions in our legal guide for help researching this question. If you are unsure, consider consulting an attorney or seeking other legal assistance.
    2. Check whether the statements personally involve the requester. If they do not, the requester may not be able to sue you for defamation. See the section on Who Can Sue for Defamation for more on this limitation.
    3. If the request is unclear, ask the requester to clarify in writing the specific factual errors in your published statements, provide documentation for his or her assertions of error, and explain what he wants you to do.
    4. Research the accuracy of any factual statements made by the requester.
    5. If your statements do in fact contain factual errors, consider printing a correction or a retraction that concisely states the correct facts.
    6. Make the retraction in a timely manner.
    7. Make the retraction clear. Do not bury the retraction, i.e., use the same size and font that you used for the original statements.
    8. If appropriate, think about showing the proposed retraction to the requester before publishing it to ensure that the retraction does not exacerbate your previously published factual errors.

  • Know your state's correction/retraction law: Find out whether your state has a retraction statute and take the time to understand the law and how it impacts you. For example, find out how publishing a retraction reduces your potential for damages. Pay close attention to the procedural steps outlined in the law, such as whether you have a time frame within which you must publish a retraction in order to avail yourself of any legal benefits.

  • Keep the names and contact information of a few media lawyers handy: Note the contact information for several media lawyers in your area so that you can quickly respond to a retraction request. You will have important decisions to make in what may be short time. If you need help searching for lawyers, use our section on finding legal help.

  • Do not ignore correction/retraction requests: Do not disregard a retraction request because a requester hasn't complied with the appropriate retraction law when making the request (e.g. a plaintiff serves you with a retraction request in twenty-one days instead of the statutory requirement of twenty days). If a retraction statute applies, it may provide you with a relatively easy way to forestall a defamation claim or limit your damages.


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