Italy Extends Welcome To Internet Libel Suits

from the lawyers-without-borders dept

If somebody writes something about you that you don’t like, go to Italy and read it there, because then, apparently you can have them prosecuted for defamation. Lance Armstrong will go on trial there next year, stemming from comments he made about Italian rival Filippo Simeoni to a French newspaper. Even though the comments in question were published outside the country, a judge determined the alleged act of defamation occured when Simeoni read the article online in Italy. The question of who has jurisdiction over content published online remains unanswered, with courts in some countries, such as Australia, asserting that something that can be read in their country is liable to their legal system. As we’ve noted before, these precedents open up anyone that puts content online to be sued anywhere in the world — something that will lead to jurisdiction shopping. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine countries building up Internet libel industries, with rules allowing people to sue anyone, anywhere and courts friendly to libel claims, much like some countries become corporate tax havens.

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Comments on “Italy Extends Welcome To Internet Libel Suits”

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MichelAngelo (user link) says:


The gift of speech should be given only to real human beings. The ones that would be able to be accountable for what comes out of their mouths.
As a general rule, EVEN on the internet, one has (almost) free speech .. and he/she should accept the consequences that comes with that freedom.
Borders (physical or digital) should not impair the legality of a statement.

TechNoFear (profile) says:

Re: Nothing to do with the internet....

This is a defamation case. A case about damage to someone’s reputation.

If the plaintif’s reputation exists in Italy and was damaged in Italy. So the case should be heard in Italy.

Why should damaging and incorrect content be allowed just because they were published on the internet?

Why is the publishers’ duty to ensure that content produced for profit is not accurate and legal, just because it is on the internet?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Nothing to do with the internet....

If the plaintif’s reputation exists in Italy and was damaged in Italy. So the case should be heard in Italy.

But the market for the publication was in France.

The *problem* is that every country has different libel laws — and by saying (as you do) that you need to obey the laws where anyone might feel their reputation was impugned, then you’ve suddenly made it so that the country who has the strictest laws now gets to enforce those laws across the rest of the globe.

TechNoFear (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Nothing to do with the internet....


You must have a reputation in that country, prove it was damaged in that country and that the damaging content was untrue.

Ever heard of Filippo Simeoni before?
I haven’t so I assume he would not have much of a reputation to damage in Australia (and so it would be costly and pointless suing here).

Your side of the coin is I can vindictivly destroy your reputation around the globe as long as I do it from the country with the slackest laws.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Nothing to do with the internet....

Your side of the coin is I can vindictivly destroy your reputation around the globe as long as I do it from the country with the slackest laws.

Well, there are two sides to the coin. One is whether or not libel laws really make sense these days, and you could makea pretty good argument that they don’t — but I’ll leave that aside for now.

But, I think what you said is flat out wrong about what my opinion is. My side is *not* that you can vindictively destroy someones reputation and use the slackest laws. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite. My point has been that the whole idea of being able to jurisdiction shop is a problem — whether you’re using the strictest or the slackest laws.

Just one guy says:

I don't understand your point

Mmmh, an Italian suing an American over an interview gone online in a French newspaper? Carlo, this is pesky matter however you look at it.

Assuming the defamation really happened (so there is real meat in the complaint), what should Simeoni have done? Sue Armstrong in France? Sue him in the US? Or sue him in each country for the quantity of damages he has received in that country? In this case, it only makes sense he sued him first (or only) in Italy, where he has the greatest reputation and where the damage has been the worst. And since this is a French newspaper, and possibly not widely read in Italy, the judge should try to assess the impact of the damaging text on Italian citizens only when evaluating the compensation. This is not unreasonable.

In fact, I assume that any reasonable judge will evaluate the merits of the libel only proportionally to the damage occurred in his country, and not globally in the world. If this is so, then the idea of jurisdiction shopping is not that likely or appealing anymore.

If on the other hand you are suggesting that I should sue for defamation according to the laws of the country where the text was put online, I guess this would create a mechanism for jurisdiction shopping: I could create my own libeling blog with jurisdiction in some far off island on the Pacific Ocean and happily produce unsubstantiated and embarassing claims on just anyone I don’t like, safe from any kind of legal retaliation… would that be fair?

If, finally, you are suggesting that events that happen on a global scale should have global legislation, then I perfectly agree with you. But, until we have a world-wide parliament approving world-wide laws, what is a poor defamed guy supposed to do?

Michael Roberts Internet Libel Victim's Advocate (profile) says:

Internet libel "litigation havens"

Carlos’ last sentence is an interesting prophecy/protection. But I don’t think it would get that far. I also acknowledge his concern about jurisdiction shopping. Not withstanding, I think the greater good is served by implementing common sense laws that act as a deterrent to antisocial antagonists from practicing Internet libel and hiding behind anonymity, or jurisdictions that do not offer equitable relief for victims of libel.

As a victim of extreme Internet libel, I can state with some authority that people who have not experienced this 21st Century pandemic firsthand, simply cannot relate to the anguish it causes. It is absolutely debilitating to have your reputation smeared 24/7 through the amazing effectiveness of the Internet and search engines.

The Australian court ruling referred to by Carlos is in my opinion an excellent example of common sense, here is a snippet:

The Australian High Court explains this perfectly in a case called Dow Jones & Co. Inc. v Gutnick:
“If people wish to do business in, or indeed travel to, or live in, or utilize the infrastructure of different countries, they can hardly expect to be absolved from compliance with the laws of those countries. The fact that publication might occur everywhere does not mean that it occurs nowhere.” (per Callinan J at para 186)


“ …the spectre which Dow Jones sought to conjure up in the present appeal, of a publisher forced to consider every article it publishes on the World Wide Web against the defamation laws of every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe is seen to be unreal when it is recalled that in all except the most unusual of cases, identifying the person about whom material is to be published will readily identify the defamation law to which that person may resort.”


Michael Roberts of

Michael Roberts Anonymous Blogger bounty hunter (user link) says:

Anonymous Blogger & Internet Libel

Free speech is a terrific ingredient of a liberated and open culture. Free speech can also be exploited for wicked online libel attacks. The price of free speech is high, particularly online where there is no publisher’s moderation. Words that hurts a victim who is untainted should never be tolerated, the cost is too much.

However, there are loads of asocial dweebs who make use of this liberty to bring nobel people down to their level. Regularly these masked cyber-losers have some variety of antisocial (diagnosed sociopaths in black and white films) & related character disorder, and are prompted only through hate and spiteful, cruel impulses. They have an insatiable compulsion to hurt or control others; they are actually fueled by the pain they inflict; a tortured soul’s desperate attempts to escape is their twisted trophy, the clinical term is “narcissistic supply”. Everyday citizens such as 90%+ of people this account can’t guess what drives these people. Stop for a moment, try to imagine having a seared conscience and stoney heart…. it is just impossible.

This woeful public problem has become a wild fire during the last decade due to unchecked anonymous cyber defamation. In internet libel law suits in which judges have ordered that anonymous and malicious bloggers should be exposed to the libel victim, such directives are repeatedly a cause of outrage for a small but rambunctious variety of fanatical activists that figure that free speech should be absolute and unconditional & a talker or author can’t be held responsible for his/her words, without regard to the truth or falsity of the publications. Many believe that should these vocal pundits could live through the paralyzing impact that a cowardly anonymous blogger can have on the emotional, physical, vocational, & social wellness of targets or their family; they wouldn’t be as enthusiastic in their opposition.

An inherent weakness of anonymous cyber libel is that it has less credibility when critically considered by prudent and objective people. However, there is a newfangled dynamic with the quandary of ruthless and anonymous internet defamation. While this diatribe might appear suspect, if the victim is being assessed for a job, consulting awards, boy-scout leadership or a prom partner, the individual carrying out the references will probably consider the likely PR exposure associated with attaching to the victim. While the potential employer can probably see past the denunciation, the decision maker will probably reflect on what their customers and partners will believe if less clever & objective.

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