Note: This page covers information specific to Arizona 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.
Arizona has a retraction statute, A.R.S. § 12‑653.02, that applies to “an action for damages for the publication of a libel in a newspaper or magazine, or of a slander by radio or television broadcast.” The statute does not specifically state whether it covers online publications. Because the statute does not explicitly require publication in physical as opposed to electronic form, if an online publication can be characterized as a “newspaper or magazine,” you may have a colorable argument that the retraction law applies. However, at least one federal court in Arizona has stated that the retraction statute applies only to “libel actions based on newspaper or magazine articles” and does not apply to comments made on an online forum. Dealer Comp. Servs. v. Fullers’ White Mt. Motors, Inc., No. CV07-00748-PCT-JAT, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83311 at *19 (D. Ariz. Oct. 16, 2008).
Handling Requests to Remove or Retract Material in Arizona
Under A.R.S. § 12‑653.02, a plaintiff must “serve upon the publisher at the place of publication, or broadcaster at the place of broadcast, a written notice specifying the statements claimed to be libelous and demanding that the same be corrected . . . within twenty days after actual knowledge of the plaintiff of the publication or broadcast of the statements claimed to be libelous.”
If someone contacts you with a retraction or correction request, you should first determine whether a retraction or correction 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 or correction is appropriate, you should issue a retraction or correction “in substantially as conspicuous a manner in the newspaper or magazine, or on the radio or television broadcasting station, as the statements claimed to be libelous, in a regular issue thereof published or broadcast within three weeks after service” of the demand for the correction. A.R.S. § 12‑653.03. If you follow these requirements, you can avail yourself of the statutory benefit of limiting potential defamation damages. See id.
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. The statute provides that 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 unless he or she can prove actual malice. A.R.S. § 12‑653.03. However, the Arizona Supreme Court has held that the retraction statute violates art. 18, § 6 of the Arizona constitution in part, to the extent that it eliminates “general damages for both loss of reputation and emotional harm, preventing those damaged by defamation from recovering general damages for actual injury.” Boswell v. Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., 152 Ariz. 9, 19 (Ariz. 1986). Therefore, the limits on liability might not apply only to punitive damages, and may not apply to the extent a plaintiff can prove actual damage to her reputation or actual emotional harm.
The retraction statute also does not apply not apply “to any publication or broadcast made within thirty days preceding any election, if such publication or broadcast is designed to in any way influence the results of such election.” A.R.S. § 12‑653.05.
Even if your online publishing activities do not fall within the scope of Arizona’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.