UK High Court Recognizes That Defamation Standard Should Be Lowered For Online Forums

from the a-step-in-the-right-direction dept

UK libel law is incredibly strict. It's much stricter than in the US, which is why there have been a few cases over the years where someone tried to sue for libel in the UK despite the fact that the content had nothing to do with the UK. However, there's a small bit of good news coming out of the UK, where the High Court has ruled that online chat rooms and message boards should be treated more like spoken conversations (slander) than written ones (libel). This is a basic (but important) recognition that these parts of the internet are about communication rather than broadcast content (which is what libel laws target), noting that content posted to a message board is quite different than content in a newspaper:
"[Bulletin board posts] are rather like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on; they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out. Those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or 'give and take'."

"When considered in the context of defamation law, therefore, communications of this kind are much more akin to slanders (this cause of action being nowadays relatively rare) than to the usual, more permanent kind of communications found in libel actions. People do not often take a 'thread' and go through it as a whole like a newspaper article. They tend to read the remarks, make their own contributions if they feel inclined, and think no more about it."
This is definitely a step in the right direction.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 7:01am

    "People do not often take a 'thread' and go through it as a whole like a newspaper article. They tend to read the remarks, make their own contributions if they feel inclined, and think no more about it.""

    And so that makes it less defaming?

    This is a step in the wrong direction.

     

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  2.  
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    Ima Fish, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 7:11am

    This might just be my way of using the English language, but when a standard is easier to overcome, it is said to be lowered. And when a standard is more difficult to overcome, it is said to be raised. For example, a low fence is easier to get over than a high fence.

    So when you say that lowering the standard will make it harder to bring a defamation claim, it doesn't really make any sense.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 7:28am

    Re:

    Yes, that DOES make it less defaming. The difference between slander and libel is mostly about presentation.

    Some random yahoo on the street yells that you are gay with kids? That's slander.

    Some one, possibly a well known person, says that you are gay with kids? That's libel.

    The difference being, in slander, the damage is slight and more about hurt feelings in most cases. In libel the damage is more permanent and can haunt you for ever.


    The internet is a funny thing. *Some* forums seem to have lasting affects on your reputation whereas others you are probably the only one that remembers you were insulted.


    But you were arguing. Care to over any counter points besides your opinion? Because your personal opinion is just as irrelevant as mine.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 8:03am

    Libel is fun . . .

    The UK high court are a bunch of child molesting, islamo-facists who secretly like American football! I have proof . . .

     

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  5.  
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    Haywood, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re:

    "The internet is a funny thing. *Some* forums seem to have lasting affects on your reputation whereas others you are probably the only one that remembers you were insulted."

    Some forums I visit the object is to slander the other posters, with points awarded for style :p

     

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  6.  
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    maniac in a speedo, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 9:09am

    Oh, Reginald! I disagree! (speeds away)

     

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  7.  
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    JS Beckerist (profile), Aug 11th, 2008 @ 10:44am

    Re:

    It is well known that anyone can post, anyone can have an opinion, and even if it's a malicious lie the understanding is that Joe Schmo is NOT the same as a remark from a reputed journalistic outlet.

    This IS a step in the right direction for the same reasons as taking the heat off of ISPs for their users actions.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Cowherd, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 10:52am

    A Step in the Wrong Direction

    I must respectfully disagree with Mike Masnick on this one. This is, indeed, a step in the wrong direction.

    Chat room insults are indeed generally more akin to slander.

    But web board insults, and similarly, get archived by Google. This makes them as enduring as ones appearing in print, and worse, the archive is much more accessible and searchable than typically occurs with print.

    If it would be libel coming from "Joe Schmoe" and appearing in a letters to the editor section of a newspaper, then it should be libel coming from "Joe Schmoe" on a web board.

    "[Bulletin board posts] are rather like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on; they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out. Those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or 'give and take'."

    This is only relevant for those reading along in real time. It does not affect how those posts might be interpreted by someone who googles someone's name and finds the posts.

    "When considered in the context of defamation law, therefore, communications of this kind are much more akin to slanders (this cause of action being nowadays relatively rare) than to the usual, more permanent kind of communications found in libel actions."

    Things Google indexes are every bit as permanent as things published in print media.

     

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  9.  
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    Anomalous, Aug 11th, 2008 @ 11:42am

    A Step in the Wrong Direction

    You may find that this Judgment will be overturned by the Court of Appeal.

    The Judge concerned was Mr Justice Eady, who the previous day awarded in favour of Max Mosley in the 'Nazi' spanking case and against a tabloid newspaper.

    Not only was the Judgment biased in favour of the Defendants, but Justice Eady made the mistake of slapping a Civil Restraint Order on the Claimant - something he had previously said he would not do and in fact, he was not entitled to do under a previous Court of Appeal ruling.

    Even one of the Defendant's counsel Richard Parkes QC has questioned the validity of the Judge's statement about slander/libel on bulletin boards. On 5RB's website they say:

    "There is sense in the point, but the essential difference between libel and slander is that libel is permanent and slander is transitory. Postings on a bulletin board may be akin to speech, but unlike speech they are permanent and accessible, even though they may not be re-read once the ‘thread’ has moved on. This point will be revisited by the courts."

    They are wrong about the posts not being re-read once the thread has moved on. If the post has been complained about, the defamation is removed, but if it was archived by Google, then it could be re-read again and again.

    There is also nothing to stop you copying the entire Bulletin Board and then republishing it – or to revisit the section in which the posts existed.

    Bulletin Board posts are unlike speech in that they are permanent, accessible and can be republished. Slander is transitory, but libel is permanent – so this shows that Eady’s characterisation was completely wrong.

    Eady based that characterisation on the amount of 'mere vulgar abuse' that the posts contained and viewed the posts as the 'to and fro' discussion in a bar. But in this instance, the Judge failed to look at the true context. There were 40+ people ganging up and attacking one person - yet this 40+ people accused the one individual of bullying them - when it was plain from the BB that it was the other way around.

    I think that 5RB say that this area will be revisited not just because they know there is an appeal, but also because there are other cases in the pipeline that are not ‘slander’ but libel and accepted as such.

    This is enough legal precedent to show that internet bulletin boards are libel. Justice Eady himself admitted that a blog could be capable of being acted upon as libel, but he qualified this judgment by stating that in this case it was slander.

    It was most definitely not slander - it was libel. Accusations that someone is a criminal, specific or general and dishonest can affect not only their employment, but also their professional reputation.

    As the claimant was a professional person, any continued imputation of impropriety would have a serious effect upon him and would be defamatory.

    The Judge obviously had a tough week watching all the S&M videos from the previous case and got the Judgment hideously wrong.

     

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  10.  
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    the truth is out there, Aug 17th, 2008 @ 3:27am

    Re: A Step in the Wrong Direction

    having read the full judgement its plain to see why the justice came to this conclusion , the full judgement can be read online .

     

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  11.  
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    Judge Eady got it right, Aug 17th, 2008 @ 3:41pm

    Re: A Step in the Wrong Direction

    Anomalous should accept the verdict and move on with his life, he has used his unemployed status to try and make money through the court,Judge Eady saw right through it, he forgot to mention to this thread that he asked people for sums varying from £10,000 to £100,000 to avoid a court case(he claimed it would cost them more in court and they could lose their house etc).

    He also forgets to mention he started the debate by calling someone a fraudster and others liars.

    "Accusations that someone is a criminal, specific or general and dishonest can affect not only their employment, but also their professional reputation."

    I think you'll still get your giro mate, don't worry.

     

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  12.  
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    John Keeley Azelle, Aug 31st, 2008 @ 4:53pm

    I got sued

    Before this judgement came out I got sued for legal costs only of £10,000 which put me in debt to the tune of £15,589 for making a few fantasy remarks about a nude model. I lost my family, my job, and my house. My comments were just a bit of a laugh, never intended to harm anyone. I am now penniless, and I am going to commit suicide as soon as I can afford the rope.

     

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