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Libel Cases In The UK Hit A Ten Year High… Just As People Were Declaring Libel Dead In The US

from the something's-wrong.. dept

Just a few months ago, we were writing about a report declaring “the end of libel” because many of the big US media companies were facing no current libel suits — for the first time that people could remember. Of course, we suggested there were other factors involved, including an increase in libel suits against others, such as blogs. However, it does seem that, beyond the strong free speech protections against silly libel lawsuits, many are realizing that filing a defamation lawsuit is simply not the best response anymore. In fact, it’s often easier to just get your own story out there yourself. The initial reason behind libel laws was that they were needed in a time when the press was controlled by just a few players. However, in an age where anyone can be the press, the need for libel laws actually diminishes, as there are other, better, remedies in many cases.

Unfortunately, the UK is still stuck with its incredibly antiquated libel laws that put the burden on the accused and can create significant problems for people accused in cases where the goals are clearly to silence speech someone doesn’t like, rather than deal with actual defamation. That can create massive chilling effects.

And, in the meantime, it can create a rash of libel lawsuits. So just a few months removed from the (not quite accurate) news that libel is “over” in the US, comes the news that libel cases in the UK have hit a 10-year high, fueled in large part by the internet. While the internet should be seen as an alternative to libel lawsuits, instead many are now seeing comments of others as being worth a libel suit in the UK. The article quotes people pointing out that these lawsuits are “expensive and often unnecessary.” Seems like even more evidence for the UK to finally getting around to fixing libel law in the UK.

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Comments on “Libel Cases In The UK Hit A Ten Year High… Just As People Were Declaring Libel Dead In The US”

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Richard (profile) says:

We (sort of ) need those laws

Unfortunately the tabloid press in the UK behaves in such a way that a libel law that is heavily skewed against them is needed just to create something like a level playing field.

The problem the UK lawmakers face is to create a libel law that gives an ordinary person a fighting chance against the tabloids, whilst at the same time avoiding a law that is hopelessly unbalanced in every other situation.

Maybe the newspaper industry in the UK will collapse soon – then we can fix our laws!

Idobek (profile) says:

Re: We (sort of ) need those laws

What you say might have some merit if our libel laws influenced, in any way, the behaviour of the tabliod press. They don’t. What our libel laws do is cause the shelving of good reporting because the cost of fighting any potential law suit is not worth the risk.

Reporting the facts as you know them, and then commenting on them, is fraught with danger. Making up a story and then retracting it, and paying compensation, the minute a law suit is mooting is much cheaper than defending a well researched story in the courts.

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