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Demands to Correct, Retract, or Remove Libelous Information 

Demands to Correct, Retract, or Remove Libelous Information

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Demands to Correct, Retract, or Remove Libelous Information

Demands to correct or retract allegedly libelous material should be handled carefully. Removal of libelous information in print is not possible, and the standard course of action has been to print corrections or retractions in an expeditious and prominent manner.6,7 Online archives, which are considered part of the original publication in the United States (but not in other countries), may be corrected, edited, or removed, and continued posting of defamatory material in an online archive may increase the risk of liability for the author, editor, and publisher.6 However, demands to remove libelous material must be carefully balanced against the need to preserve the integrity of the scientific record, and correction and retraction are always preferred over removal of content.24,25 Editors should consider consulting a lawyer with expertise in media law to determine the best course of action.

If an allegation of defamation or threat to take legal action because of alleged defamation is determined to be frivolous or groundless, the editor should inform the person making the allegation that there is no merit to the allegation/threat and no further action should be taken. If the allegation is considered to have merit, the editor may wish to consider publishing a letter from the person or representative of the entity criticized and ask the author to provide for publication a letter of explanation or apology; or the editor may choose to publish a correction or a retraction. In each case, reciprocal linking should be established between any published letters, correction, or retraction and the original article. In rare and truly extraordinary circumstances, the editor may choose to remove or obscure the libelous material from an article or other online posting provided that a brief explanation of why the material has been removed or obscured is included and is made easily accessible. If the libelous material is so inextricably embedded in the context of an article that it cannot be partially removed or obscured, an entire article may need to be removed from the online archive provided that the bibliographic citation to the article remains intact and a brief explanation of why the article has been removed is included with or linked from the citation. In each of these cases, correction or retraction is highly preferred to changing or removal of content.24,25

In addition, republication (eg, reprints, e-prints, book collections) of articles containing defamatory material must be avoided, as these are not part of the original publication and republication of known libelous material may result in additional liability and damage claims.6

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