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Libel Might Not Be Libel In The UK If No One Sees It

from the if-you-libel-someone-in-the-forest-and-no-one-is-around... dept

About a year ago, in one of the many “internet jurisdiction” cases we’ve seen, a Saudi businessman sued the Wall Street Journal in the UK over an article they wrote about him. The guy was in Saudi Arabia, the article was published by a US newspaper on a US website — yet the case was filed in the UK because of its stricter libel laws and the (weak) claim that since the content was on the internet, it could fall under any country’s libel laws. There are obvious problems with this, as it suggests that any online content automatically falls under the strictest country’s laws. Luckily, that case was thrown out. However, it appears a similar case was filed soon afterwards, with an Egyptian man filing suit against a Swiss company in the UK, claiming content on their site was libelous. While the case was eventually settled out of court, the UK High Court has put out a ruling noting that for libel to apply there needs to be “substantial publication,” suggesting that more than a few people need to have seen the content. In other words, if it’s some tiny blog or forum in the UK, the person claiming libel would have to show how many people actually saw it. In this case, apparently the only people who viewed the site from within the UK were the guy’s legal team — which apparently is not enough for “substantial publication.” Of course, you have to wonder how this will work in a world where the Streisand Effect occurs. It could make it so that those who believe they’ve been libeled in the UK will now have incentive to make sure more people see the statements in order for it to qualify as libel. You have to wonder if the question of “substantial publication” should only apply to the time before the complaint is made. Of course, for anyone hoping to use this defense, you have to remember that whatever borderline libelous statement you make needs to be so boring and tame that no one bothers to look at it — so there might not be that much value in this protection.

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Comments on “Libel Might Not Be Libel In The UK If No One Sees It”

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Robert Rittmuller (user link) says:

Wow, someone outside the US going lawsuit happy...

Sure sounds like the litigious atmosphere that pervades the U.S. is being exported (via the Internet) to other parts of the globe. Only time will tell where this will take things from a legal standpoint but it sure will make online publishing even more influential as the standard method of communication. Only when people begin to sue regarding something said within a medium does the world fully accept that medium. Scary.

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