Canadian Supreme Court To Hear Case Over Liability For Linking To Defamatory Information
from the linkety-link dept
You may recall that a few years back, Canadian politician Wayne Crookes started suing a whole bunch of sites, including Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo and MySpace, just because of postings on those sites that Crookes felt were libelous. Whether or not the comments actually were defamatory was a big open question, but a bigger issue was why he was suing the service providers, rather than those actually responsible for the comments. Some of those lawsuits got tossed out on a jurisdictional technicality, but Crookes then also sued some others, claiming libel for just linking to a site that was potentially libelous as well. One of those sued was Jon Newton, the operator of P2Pnet.net, a site that many of you read. Newton had linked to the stories in question, but did not repeat was written in them or offer any commentary — and yet Crookes claimed that just the links were defamatory.
Thankfully, both the district court and the appeals court said that just linking was not defamatory, but the reasoning was a bit odd, and left some potential issue open. Now, as a bunch of folks have submitted, the Canadian Supreme Court is gearing up to take on the issue. There are really two questions here: whether or not the initial link is defamation, and secondarily, whether or not it becomes defamation if you refuse to take down the link after being alerted to it being defamatory.
In the US, Section 230 of the CDA protects website publishers in both cases. In Canada, the law is not at all clear on this issue, and there’s a very real threat of a pretty massive chilling effect if the Supreme Court decides that linking (or even refusing to take down a link) can constitute defamation. Hopefully, the Supreme Court agrees that merely linking should never be seen as defamation — and preferably, the Canadian Parliament makes this doubly clear by putting in place some basic safe harbors as well.