Netflix has made it clear that it wants no part in any legal matters concerning its independently produced content. Since its documentary series Making a Murderer has undergone a defamation lawsuit, Netflix has worked hard to distance itself from all liability regarding the shows on its streamer service.
Back in December, Andrew Colborn, who was the detective on the case, initiated a lawsuit against the series for misrepresenting the facts and causing harm to his family and his reputation. In the lawsuit, Colborn alleged that the series Making a Murderer insinuated that he planted evidence in order to frame Avery, resulting in Colborn’s defamation.
Andrew Colborn, a retired Wisconsin police sergeant, alleges in a lawsuit that Making a Murderer libeled him by insinuating he planted evidence in an effort to frame Avery for that second murder. Even if Colborn’s allegation that the documentary is a provable falsehood is accepted though, Netflix argues in a motion to dismiss filed on Thursday that Colborn hasn’t sufficiently pled Netflix’s culpability. Colborn has since retired from duty on the Manitowoc County, Wisconsin police force, and has stood by his belief that Avery was guilty.
“Despite overwhelming evidence proving Avery and Dassey’s guilt and the utter absence of evidence supporting defendant’s accusations of police misconduct, defendants falsely led viewers to the inescapable conclusion that plaintiff and others planted evidence to frame Avery for Halbach’s murder,” stated in the complaint. “Defendants omitted, distorted, and falsified material and significant facts in an effort to portray plaintiff as a corrupt police officer who planted evidence to frame an innocent man. Defendants did so with actual malice and in order to make the film more profitable and more successful in the eyes of their peers, sacrificing and defaming the plaintiff’s character and reputation in the process.”
The complaint alleged how Colborn, the plaintiff, was in no way acting unjustly, instead accusing the defendants of purposefully leading viewers to a false conclusion. The complaint’s list of defendants included included Netflix.
“Defendants, separately and severally, with actual malice, led viewers to the inescapable but false conclusion that plaintiff and MTSO Lt. James Lenk planted the ignition key for Halbach’s SUV in Avery’s bedroom. They did so by splicing trial testimony, omitting other testimony, and failing to include essential photographic evidence that would have given viewers a complete view of what occurred.”
Netflix has made clear that it is simply the “distributor” of its non-original content and does not necessarily agree with any of the views presented in said content. In a response, Netflix’s attorneys vehemently denied any liability concerning the streamer, claiming that Colborn “simply lumps Netflix together with co-defendants Chrome Media, LLC — the concededly independent production company that created Making a Murderer — and its filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, and makes vague, conclusory allegations… about ‘defendants’ collectively,” adding that “Setting aside all the other problems with Colborn’s lawsuit — most fundamentally, that Making a Murderer contains no false statements of fact about him — he has not plausibly alleged that Netflix distributed the documentary series negligently, much less with the requisite actual malice.”
However, as pointed out by The Hollywood Reporter, due to what is known as “republication liability,” Netflix might still be held responsible for third-party content. According to Minc Law, “If the defamer behaves in such a way that reasonable people believe he should have recognized there was a great likelihood of the damaging material being conveyed to a third party, the defamer will be held liable. However, if a reasonable person would believe the communication was accidental and the behavior of the defamer did not exhibit a great likelihood of the information being published, there is no liability.”
A saving grace for Netflix might be attributed to Section 230, which states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Whatever happens in the case, this could become a predecessor for other streaming services, as it is a new frontier concerning liability of content.