Do Changes to a Blog Post’s URL and the Site’s Metatags Restart the Statute of Limitations?

An interesting decision, stemming from the Wolk v. Olson litigation. Here’s the legal background: A publisher is generally not be liable once the statute of limitations (generally a year or longer) has run since the original publication. At that point, under the “single publication rule” — which is generally accepted in most states, and has generally been applied to the Internet in the cases that have considered the issue — no further lawsuits can be brought based on the original post, even if the publisher eventually learns that the post is false. The mere fact that a blog post is being copied to a reader’s computer each time it’s accessed doesn’t constitute a new publication that restarts the statute of limitations.

But do changes to the post constitute a republication, and restart the statute? Sufficiently substantive changes might, but for modest changes — such as most changes in a URL — the answer is likely no. A few cases have so held, see Canatella v. Van De Kamp (9th Cir. 2007) and In re Davis (W.D. Ky. 2006); the judge in this case suggested that she took a similar view, though she ultimately decided the case on other grounds:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) provides in pertinent part:

On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: …

(2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b);

(3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; … [or]

(6) any other reason that justifies relief.

Under Rule 60(b)(2), the term “newly discovered evidence” refers to “evidence of facts in existence at the time of trial of which the aggrieved party was excusably ignorant.”

The primary contention of the plaintiff’s Rule 60(b) motion is that the defendants republished an allegedly defamatory article within the applicable statute of limitations by altering several aspects of the article. These changes included changing the URL or file name of the blog entry from: www.overlawyered.com/2007/04/aurthur_alan_wolk_v_teledyne_in.html to www.overlawyered.com/2007/04/arthur-alan-wolkv-teledyne-industries-inc/. The import of the change from underscores to hyphens in file name is that the second URL with hyphens is more easily understood by search engines, which causes the page to obtain better placement in search engine results. The defendants also made additional changes to their site to enhance search engine results, such as adding “tags” to the site. These changes were made to the defendants’ entire website, not simply to the article at issue in this case.

The plaintiff has not convinced the Court that the defendants’ change in blogging software, which effectively renamed the files associated with the defendants’ online content, constitutes newly discovered evidence that warrants extraordinary relief or that the defendants engaged in fraud or misconduct by not disclosing the change. The Court is skeptical that renaming a computer file and adding additional features to a website would constitute republication of the underlying article where the actual content of the article remained the same and the content was displayed on the same domain (here, [Overlawyered.com]). However, even assuming that such a change would restart the statute of limitations, the Court finds that the change in file names associated with the change in blogging platforms could have been discovered through the exercise of reasonable diligence and that the extraordinary remedy of Rule 60(b) is not warranted in this case.