Feeds

Reader comments bigger legal risk than forums

Mod squad issues dire warning

High performance access to file storage

Media sites which ask readers to comment on news stories are at greater risk of bearing responsibility for those comments than for comments in online forums or discussion groups, leading web moderators have warned.

Though there are few verdicts to help lawyers and site moderators come up with hard and fast rules, it is generally believed that a web publisher who does not pre-screen user comments is not liable for libellous or otherwise unlawful comments because they had no editorial involvement in them.

Sites which pre-screen all comments are generally deemed to share responsibility with the poster because they have chosen to publish any comments that appear.

But one moderating veteran has said that when unscreened comments appear under news stories the publishers of the site could be liable for them.

"Many lawyers I've spoken to now view the invitation of content – so if you have a comments section at the end of an article on a newspaper site – they view that as inviting comment and therefore you are responsible for it and therefore you probably want to consider pre-moderating all the content that goes there," said Danny Dagan, a moderation consultant who has helped establish online communities for The Sun newspaper, amongst others.

Dominic Sparkes is operations director at Tempero, a moderation firm that spun out of broadcast network ITV. He agreed that the view on news story comments had become common, but said that a recent judgment in the UK by Mr Justice Eady might change that.

That ruling, reported on OUT-LAW.COM, said that comments on bulletin boards and online discussion groups are more like slander than libel because they are more informal.

"I think that does get talked about a lot but I think the Justice Eady case might change that slightly," said Sparkes. "I'm not sure if there's enough case law yet to have a hard and fast rule on that in terms of what is said online."

Mr Justice Eady had written in that ruling: "[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," said the ruling.

Dagen and Sparkes were speaking to technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio.

John Mackenzie, a litigation partner with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, disagrees with Dagen and Sparkes.

"It is likely that the courts will focus on whether or not a publisher reviewed content, rather than the form of the publication," he said. "It isn't likely to make any difference whether or not it is an invitation to comment or a bulletin board. They amount to much the same thing. If the comments are not moderated, the publisher is probably safe, at least until notified of any allegedly defamatory posting."

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Whoever you vote for, Google gets in
Report uncovers giant octopus squid of lobbying influence
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.