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Aussie Net libel writ extends to world+dog

Freedom of speech etc

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Australian entrepreneur, Joseph Gutnick, has won the right to have a defamation case against US online publisher Dow Jones heard in an Australian court.

Dow Jones lost an appeal after the High Court ruled that the news organisation was subject to Australian law because the article in question was downloaded in Australia.

Dow Jones had argued that any libel case should be heard in the US since that was where the article was published.

The decision is being studied by media organisations across the world amid concerns that it could set a precedent for other cases.

One UK industry insider told The Register that if this is start of a trend then online publishers might be forced to limit access to content on a country-by-country basis.

Not only could it damage freedom of speech it could also expose publishers to legal action all over the world.

Said another industry insider: "You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out the practicalities of being sued everywhere.

"This will mean that China will be able to sue someone in Australia for writing something critical about the Government's activities in Tibet," he said.

Speaking on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The World Today programme Mr Gutnick said: "Well, they'll have to be very careful what they put on the net. We knew that previously but it'll certainly be re-established that the net is no different than a regular newspaper, that you have to be careful what you write.

"And if you offend somebody and, or write malicious statements about people, like was done in my case, then you can be subjected to being prosecuted," he said.

Dow Jones has said it will continue to defend the libel action. ®

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