Note: This page covers information specific to Indiana 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.
Indiana has a retraction statute, Ind. Code § 34-15-4-3, which applies to libel published in a "newspaper" or by a "news service." Although the statute does not specifically state whether it covers online publications, the court's decision in Christopher v. American News Co., 171 F.2d 275 (7th Cir. 1948) suggests that Indiana's retraction statute covers an online publisher if the publisher's primary focus is the reporting of factual occurrences.
In the Christopher case, Louis Christopher brought suit against the American News Company (ANC) for allegedly libelous statements made in The Nation, a weekly magazine. ANC argued that because Christopher neglected to serve it with written notice of the allegedly libelous statements, he did not comply with the Indiana retraction statute and thus could not succeed in his libel suit. The court observed that ANC's argument assumed that The Nation was a "newspaper" and thus subject to Indiana's retraction law. The court disagreed with that assumption, explaining:
Although The Nation does print some news items of general interest, articles, classified advertisements, and editorials, it is not a newspaper in the sense in which the term is commonly used. While the line between a newspaper and other periodicals is difficult to draw, it would seem that a possible distinction might be that a newspaper reports or claims to report occurrences factually, however the facts may be slanted or distorted, whereas a periodical such as The Nation reports facts not primarily for the interest in the factual narrative in and of itself but for some other possible significance.
The court declined to decide whether The Nation was a newspaper stating that it was a question for a later time. However, the Christopher decision suggests that future courts may be willing to entertain the possibility that the state's retraction law applies to an online publication if the main focus of the publication is to report facts that make up a factual narrative with no other significance in mind.
Handling Requests to Remove or Retract Material in Indiana
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 Indiana retraction statute so that you can avail yourself of the statutory benefit of limiting potential defamation damages.
Under the Indiana retraction statute:
- A plaintiff must serve written notice at least:
- four days before filing the complaint against a news service;
- six days before filing the complaint against a daily newspaper; or
- eleven days before filing the complaint against a weekly newspaper.
- The notice must specify the statements claimed to be libelous, and detail the true facts. See Ind. Code § 34-15-4-2.
- Once the publisher receives the written notice, the publisher must publish the correction, apology, or retraction within:
- The publisher must make a full and fair retraction of the factual statements alleged to be false, placing it in as conspicuous a place and type as the original statement.
1. within three days by a news service;
2. within five days, if the newspaper is a daily publication; or
3. within ten days, if the newspaper is a weekly publication.
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.
Even if your online publishing activities do not fall within the scope of Indiana'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.