Increasing Concern Of UK's Draconian Libel Laws And How They're Abused

from the time-to-fix-the-problem dept

As I mentioned, we've recently been threatened with a number of lawsuits. One of them is a threat from the UK -- despite the fact that we are not UK-based and have no UK presence or business operations. The concern, as with most legal threats against us, was due to a comment someone made, making fun of someone who, despite haven spoken critically of others, does not appear to like being spoken about critically. The comments in question are certainly not libelous in the US, but with UK defamation law being significantly more draconian, the upset person insists that the comments are, in fact, libel and that a lawsuit is the only proper response. I still think that, even under UK libel law, it would be a stretch to find these comments libelous and a lawsuit in the UK against us would be meaningless, but we requested that the lawsuit threat be removed, and the person not only refused, but suggested the plan was to move forward. When we suggested that such a lawsuit would certainly publicize both the ridiculousness of UK libel laws and how this particular person responded to a random anonymous comment from someone on a blog page, we were told that we were being "bullies" for mentioning that such a lawsuit might look bad for the person. I find it odd that someone who threatens to sue us would then call us a bully for suggesting why such a lawsuit might backfire. Isn't the bullying in threatening a lawsuit?

And, thus, we are left with serious consequences. We've discussed how these sorts of ridiculous libel cases in the UK are creating serious chilling effects for lots of people, and more and more folks are coming forward to point out that the UK really needs to change its laws. The latest is UK comic Dara O'Briain who is sounding the alarm against this "ridiculous system" which almost everyone has recognized is creating "libel tourism."
"The libel laws which were initially set up to protect the reputation of individuals at a time when companies weren't the entities they are now are being used by companies to essentially quash dissent and to destroy criticism.

"That's a major problem. Companies can basically bully people out of saying bad things about their products and services."
The good news is that these comments came at the launch of a campaign to reform the UK's defamation laws to fix its backwards system, which is based on a different time. Hopefully the campaign moves forward quickly -- and with any luck, the threatened lawsuit against us does not become an exhibit they can use in how ridiculous these laws have become.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    The Weary Sigh, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 10:56pm

    Presuming it works similarly as in the US, once the suit is filed it becomes public knowledge who the suer is. If that's the case then you, Mike Masnick, have zero control over who sees that document if it is posted online by the court or some other interested party.

    If the suer is reading commentary here to get hissy about, perhaps they've also availed themselves of the many instances of the Streisand Effect to be found on TD.

    But since they're still threatening to sue, it seems they are not familiar with this particular phenomenon, which you, Mike Masnick, did not invent, merely gave it a name.

    Good luck, Mike. I hope they rethink their position.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 11:34pm

    I hope it wasn't one of my comments that got you in trouble. I tend to make fun of a lot of people.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    anonymous rocks, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 11:38pm

    doesn't it suck not knowing who called you an ass

    haha
    yup this guy hasn't heard of sticks and stones, but hey guess what we see jerks like him all time and in real life they get punched in noise a lot even if that is illegal cause 9 times out of ten they ask for it and "MENTALLY ABUSE" the victims until they retaliate.
    GO ahead look up mental abuse. IT IS REAL and if he is mentally abusing you with threats he knows can't hold water then that could also be harassment. AND i would add if he doesn't want to hear it he has the god given right to start a blog and tell people his side, my bet is if the majority of people think YOU an ass you prolly are and you prolly would not do the blog cause it would totally backfire.

    YUP SUCKS TO BE THIS UK WANKER.
    P.S. if i knew whom it was id get people IN THE UK to call you some names

     

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  4.  
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    drewmerc (profile), Dec 10th, 2009 @ 11:53pm

    names?

    as a uk resident i must state this person is a dickhead of the highest order

     

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  5.  
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    TFP, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 12:20am

    heh

    is it a she? crap singer? ex copyright abuser now vociferous defender? ha ha. hope it's not famous twitterer 'cos i thought he was cool - qi. can't be mandelson, local figure of hate, because everything said about him is true.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 1:00am

    Just FYI: Dara O'Briain is Irish. Ireland is not part of the UK.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 1:20am

    Any initiative to knock down the ridiculous laws in this retarded country of ours (UK) deserves my support 100%

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    anonymous rocks, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 2:18am

    doesn't it suck not knowing who called you an ass ( part 2 )

    OH and by the way its only slander or libel if its not true
    hardy har har
    I have to say that people like this need to know two things.

    THE 1st is the most important.
    1)DON'T YOU HAVE SOMETHING BETTER TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
    2) I would hazard your low self esteem needs some looking after, psychiatric evaluation of your person may be of utmost importance.

    We'd hate to lose you after all.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Poster, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 3:50am

    Oh, Britain, will you ever stop finding new ways of making me pity you?

     

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  10.  
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    packrat, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 5:12am

    lawsuits

    oppression creates, by default, a violent revolt.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 5:25am

    Companies can basically bully people out of saying bad things about their products and services

    Companies can basically bully people out of saying bad things about their products and services that they cannot back up in a court of law

    Free speech isn't free, you have to be willing to stand up for it (and pay the piper when the time comes). If your comments about a product or service are exactly correct and documented as such, you don't even barely need a lawyer to go to court, because if you are right you win (and then you sue them back for libeling / slandering you by taking you to court for something they knew they were wrong on).

    Like anything, the only people complaining are the people who went over the line and got nailed. Calling something "bogus" certainly could cross the line.

     

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  12.  
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    Jaws4theRevenge, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 5:35am

    Re:

    +1

     

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  13.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Dec 11th, 2009 @ 7:03am

    Re:

    Here in the free world people are free to have opinions.
    When you state an opinion, it is possible that somebody else has a differing opinion.
    How do you back up your opinion with facts? Anything you say about how when you ate at a restaurant the food tasted bad. Maybe they forgot some spices that day and the people going there tomorrow love it there.
    Impossible to tell.
    It should be a right to express your opinion.

    And if you look at lawsuits filed for these things, they are more often than not to shut up people who have a negative opinion of somewhere. Used to stifle free speech, not to actually stop libel / slander / whatever word you are using to indicate you have no clue how to respond to criticism.

     

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  14.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 11th, 2009 @ 7:07am

    Re:

    "If your comments about a product or service are exactly correct and documented as such, you don't even barely need a lawyer to go to court, because if you are right you win"

    Except in the UK, where truth is not a defense against a libel/slander charge like it is in the US.

     

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  15.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Dec 11th, 2009 @ 7:12am

    Re: Re:

    "Except in the UK, where truth is not a defense against a libel/slander charge like it is in the US."

    That is retarded.

    Why aren't *these* kinds of laws "normalized?" Why does it only seem to move in the direction of more lawyers?

     

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  16.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 11th, 2009 @ 8:43am

    I just want to drop in and point out that Dara O'Briain is hilarious, and should be promptly checked out by all who enjoy comedy! His episode of "Worst Gig" (where he performs for a group of live-action roleplayers) is inspired.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 10:51am

    Re:

    I find your comment libelous. Please show up in court with a lawyer to defend yourself immediately.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Andy West, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 11:07am

    Futility

    First off, is it possible for the British fool to file a libel suit against a Web site in a foreign country? Assuming such a suit is tried and decided against the site, how is it possible for the fool to have the verdict enforced, apart from having all of the UK's ISPs screen out site's domain name and/or IP address? Then the fool will have to refile the libel suit for every foreign site that called them a fool for having filed the first suit.

    See how futile it is?

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 11:27am

    Libel laws

    What is needed is a non-profit that can fund completely unreasonable lawsuits, with the requirement that the person being funded request reimbursement from the person bringing the lawsuit for malicious prosecution, and that such proceeds go back into the non-profit fund.
    Such a fund might become self-sustaining, and it would remove settlements based on legal bullying.

     

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  20.  
    icon
    Derek Reed (profile), Dec 11th, 2009 @ 2:04pm

    Well ...

    To Ron Livingston, Vicki Stewart, Jeremy Piven, Jeff Aronson, Ruth Zafrin, Lily Allen and the ~200 other people mentioned for defamation suits in the last 6 months on this site:

    I'm sorry no one taught you how to deal with name calling when you were younger, but that's not our fault. Grow up, or get out of modern society and stop mucking up things for the rest of us. This is no longer funny or interesting or beneficial to anyone involved. You're parasitic and the world would be a better place without you.

    Sincerely,
    The rest of us

     

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  21.  
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    slander (profile), Dec 12th, 2009 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Because lawyers write the laws.

     

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  22.  
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    TechNoFear (profile), Dec 13th, 2009 @ 9:04pm

    Re: Futility

    If the suit was successful Techdirt would have to pay damages and remove the content (not just restrict access to the content in the UK).

    Damages are based on how much harm the defamation did to your reputation.

    This is a natural limit to suiing in different countries, as there is no point in suing for defamation in the UK unless you have a reputation in the UK.

     

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  23.  
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    Idobek (profile), Dec 15th, 2009 @ 4:24am

    Re:

    Dara O'Briain works and, I believe lives, in the UK. The fact that his nationality Irish doesn't affect the fact that he is, to all intents and purposes, a 'UK comic'

     

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  24.  
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    Idobek (profile), Dec 15th, 2009 @ 4:33am

    The UK's libel laws are one of the many reasons I am becoming increasing ashamed of my country. We used to be a bastion of free speech, no more. What is more the Government and Parliament know it is a problem, and has been for years, and haven't done a thing about it. Those in power have forgotten the importance of free speech: so much so that ours libel laws are evening beginning to threaten medical research and practice, as drug and equipment manufacturers begin to sue over papers in medical journals.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    defamation cases in Ireland, Aug 16th, 2010 @ 12:29am

    Re:

    Reputation can be vitally important. Your reputation often precedes you, and can open many doors in business and personal life. However, if after working impeccably for many years to build an image that people respect, you find an individual or organisation has taken liberties with your good name, then you should immediately speak to a experienced solicitor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    defamation cases in Ireland, Aug 16th, 2010 @ 12:29am

    Re:

    Reputation can be vitally important. Your reputation often precedes you, and can open many doors in business and personal life. However, if after working impeccably for many years to build an image that people respect, you find an individual or organisation has taken liberties with your good name, then you should immediately speak to a experienced solicitor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    JustinLloyd, Mar 1st, 2012 @ 1:04am

    Re: Re:

    Shut up, you pompous little twat.

     

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