Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
defamation, liability, uk, web



UK Says Every Website Visit Is Another Potential Defamation

from the yikes dept

In the past, we've noted that laws covering defamation have a much lower barrier in the UK, leading to what appear to be many more questionable defamation lawsuits there. It's now getting even more ridiculous. A court in the UK, basing its ruling on a precedent from 1830, says that every visit to a web page counts as a separate publication instance in a defamation lawsuit. Thus, every view of the content increases the potential liability. As many are noting, this creates a massive chilling effect to publishing anything online in the UK.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I'm beginning to question whether defamation laws even make sense online these days. The original purpose behind libel laws was to prevent the situation where the few folks who controlled the presses could lie and smear the reputation of someone who had no legitimate way to fight back. Given that everyone has a printing press and worldwide distribution system in their computers these days, everyone does have a way to respond to such false claims. I'm not saying that we should get rid of defamation laws or that there aren't some obviously questionable cases -- but it does seem like many defamation lawsuits these days are little more than "I don't like what that guy said about me!" As more and more people recognize that online content really does tend to be more conversational and opinionated than, say, something in a traditional newspaper, the worries about reputation being damaged come to seem a bit overblown.

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  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 13 Mar 2009 @ 5:16pm

    Way to go, Brits.

    "In my judgment the defendants, whenever they transmit and whenever there is transmitted from the storage of their news server a defamatory posting, publish that posting to any subscriber to their ISP who accesses the newsgroup containing that posting..."

    The thing that scares me is that people who have no understanding of technology are passing judgement based on their own half-assed analogies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ima Fish, 13 Mar 2009 @ 5:19pm

    "laws covering defamation have a much lower barrier in the UK"

    Yes! Finally. The laws in the UK regarding defamation are not "much stricter" as this site normally puts it, they have a lower barrier, as they are easier to prosecute and win. Thank you, thank you, thank you for finally getting it right!

    (The fact that I'm excited about this says volumes about how utterly pathetic my life is.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TDR, 13 Mar 2009 @ 5:58pm

    What kind of idiots are proposing these things? A modern technology class (or classes) should be an absolute prerequisite for holding public office these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2009 @ 8:31pm

    So if I publish a defamatory piece in a newspaper, then it's 500,000 counts of defamation? Or whatever the circulation of the paper is? LOL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Luci, 14 Mar 2009 @ 5:22am

      Re:

      No, that's not what they're saying. If you print it in a newspaper, it counts as one count of publishing. If you publish it online, they are counting each act of viewing it as a separate act of publishing, not understanding that the article is only published once.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Overcast, 14 Mar 2009 @ 8:09am

    They need a ministry of truth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Vita Vi, 16 Mar 2009 @ 5:45am

    You can't have it both ways...

    Here's the problem.

    Either bloggers and web content deserves the same freedom of the press rights as traditional journalists - including being able to protect sources, etc. In which case, it DOES make a case for defemation.

    OR

    They don't, in which case, it's harder to get a defemation suit, but also harder to protect their content and rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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