Can Anyone Sue Any Online Publisher For Libel In The UK?

from the fun-with-jurisdiction dept

Back in 2002 we noted that there was going to be tremendous trouble brewing eventually concerning online jurisdictional questions. The case in question was where someone in Australia wanted to sue an American publisher (Dow Jones) for a story published in the US for a US audience on a New Jersey server. However, the Australian Supreme Court felt that, since the article was online and viewable in Australia, Australian libel laws applied. As you might imagine, this raises a ton of questions, and more or less sets things up so that the most oppressive set of laws in the world automatically applies to anything on the internet. This has resulted in situations like Yahoo’s guilt in French “war crimes” cases. The latest lawsuit in this arena suggests just how odd things might get. It involves Dow Jones (again) and uses the Australian case as a citation. In this case, a Saudi Arabian businessman sued the Wall Street Journal over an article published in the US — but he sued them in London. Why London? Despite the fact that neither he nor the WSJ are in London, the UK has much stricter libel laws. On the good news side of things, the case was thrown out, but for reasons that aren’t very helpful in figuring out how to solve this jurisdictional issue. In this case, the court decided that “not enough” people in the UK had seen the article in question. In fact, only five people had viewed the article from the UK, and apparently three of them were associated with the Saudi businessman in question. So, the problem is that this doesn’t set a very good precedent. It sets a “just how many people actually viewed this article in this locations” precedent, which is only likely to make the situation worse.

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