Student Website Offering Teacher Reviews Goes to Trial; Case to Test Libel-by-Linking Theory is headed to the courtroom March 29.

The site, which describes itself as a student-run forum “created to help foster communication among the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) student body and to be a useful tool for students to use in obtaining a more rewarding educational experience,” allows students to post and read online evaluations of CCSF faculty.

Daniel Curzon-Brown, a veteran English teacher at the school, says the site goes too far, however, and has sued the site’s Webmaster Ryan Lathouwers and 25 “John Does” who Curzon-Brown claims posted libelous opinions about him on the site. He says that he has been called a “homomaniac” and “mentally ill” on the site. Other teachers have been called racists and accused of sex acts, according to his lawsuit. Curzon-Brown wants the Internet site shut down or regulated more closely.

While that alone would make this case an interesting one for student media to watch, what makes it one that all of Cyberspace is tracking is that Curzon-Brown has also asked the court to hold the college and its student government organization liable simply for having linked their own Websites to TeacherReview.

It is thought to be the first “libel-by-linking” case in the country. While most legal experts don’t believe the libel-by linking claim will prevail, supporters of free cyberspeech say that the case, if successful, could have an enormous chilling effect on Internet-based communications.

Case: Curzon-Brown v. Lathouwers, et al (San Francisco Superior Court)