Feeds

E-Commerce defence thwarts online libel case

Struck-off solicitor clearly in the wrong game

Boost IT visibility and business value

A newspaper publisher was not liable for user comments posted after an online article and will not have to pay out libel damages, the High Court has ruled.

The Court upheld the publisher's right under the E-Commerce Regulations not to be responsible for user comments until informed of them. Newsquest also defeated a libel claim in relation to the article itself.

The article concerned Imran Karim, a struck-off solicitor, his sister and his mother. Headlined 'Crooked solicitors spent client money on a Rolex, loose women and drink', it reported a Law Society hearing at which Karim was barred from practising as a solicitor because he stole £868,000 of clients' money to fund a lavish lifestyle.

The report appeared on the websites of a number of titles belonging to regional newspaper publisher Newsquest, though not in any print editions. The report appeared within days of the hearing taking place.

The article attracted some comments on a bulletin board attached to it.

"Perhaps rather curiously but nevertheless interestingly, the majority of the comments posted were rather in favour of the Claimant and of his family," said Mr Justice Eady in his ruling. Others were not favourable, though.

Some months after the publication of the article, Karim filed a libel suit against Newsquest, which took the article and the comments about it down.

The publisher argued in Court that it could have no libel liability for the user comments because it had taken them down as soon as it received a complaint about them. The E-Commerce Regulations, which implement the EU's E-Commerce Directive, give online publishers immunity from liability for unlawful material that they host but don't produce, so long as they take action when informed about it.

The Regulations say:

Where an information society service is provided which consists of the storage of information provided by a recipient of the service, the service provider (if he otherwise would) shall not be liable for damages or for any other pecuniary remedy or for any criminal sanction as a result of that storage where -

(a) the service provider -

(i) does not have actual knowledge of unlawful activity or information and, where a claim for damages is made, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which it would have been apparent to the service provider that the activity or information was unlawful; or

(ii) upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access to the information, and

(b) the recipient of the service was not acting under the authority or the control of the service provider.

Mr Justice Eady agreed with Newsquest. "It seems to me... that [Newsquest] is entitled to rely upon that defence," he said. He granted Newsquest's request for a summary judgment in its favour rather than a full trial.

He also struck out claims that the article itself was libellous. Newsquest argued that it was not libel because it was a "fair, accurate and contemporaneous report of legal proceedings", and therefore permitted under the Defamation Act.

Mr Justice Eady said that he was "quite satisfied that it is substantially accurate in its coverage".

Newsquest also argued that the user comments were 'fair comment' and that they were merely vulgar abuse and would not be taken seriously by any reader.

The High Court ruled, though, that there was no case to answer once Newsquest had established its immunity.

The ruling can be read here.

The OUT-LAW guide to UK E-Commerce regulations is available here.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

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

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Felony charges? Harsh! Alleged Anon hackers plead guilty to misdemeanours
US judge questions harsh sentence sought by prosecutors
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
This'll end well: US govt says car-to-car jibber-jabber will SAVE lives
Department of Transportation starts cogs turning for another wireless comms standard
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.