High Court clarifies blog owners’ liability for libellous comments

Like most blogs, Lib Dem Voice encourages and accepts contributions from far and wide.  Not only do we take articles from Lib Dems and, on occasion, others, we also allow pretty much anyone to comment on blog posts.

But , if someone were to post a libellous or defamatory comment, could we be legally liable?

That’s the question the High Court has been considering in relation to an item posted on the Labourhome blog, and many site owners who might think they’re not liable may be in for a nasty shock.

In brief, a libellous post was made to the Labourhome website in 2007.  Site owner Alex Hilton says he was not aware of the post initially and, when notified, removed it immediately.

The High Court has judged that Hilton may still be liable because, whether or not that post was moderated, he did moderate some posts on the site, either before or after posting.  That included giving some posts recommended status.

As The Register explains:

“From time to time Mr Hilton considered whether entries appearing on the ‘Recommended’ and ‘Recent Blogs’ lists on the homepage were suitable for increasing to a more prominent position,” said Mr Justice Stadlen. “Upon promotion far more detail was provided about each post on the homepage including the date, the time of the post and a preview of part of the post comprising anything from a couple of lines to several paragraphs, pictures and video clips.”

These activities, said Mr Justice Stadlen, “went beyond mere storage so that Regulation 19 immunity would not be available in respect of liability for defamatory words appearing on the homepage”.

Mr Justice Stadlen said that even to fix the spelling in a post could cost the host the protection of Regulation 19.

And the legal advice?  Here’s what Struan Robertson from OUT-LAW.COM says:

Many sites apply some form of moderation to all user contributions for reasons of quality control, whether that’s before or after publication. This ruling just shows how dangerous that is and how narrow the safe harbour may be.

Even an attempt to filter for profanities or comment spam, if done manually, involves a risk for the publisher. If you want to be sure that you’re not liable for what your users say, the judge is basically saying you need to ignore user contributions completely until you get a complaint.

The full ruling can be read here.

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This entry was posted in Online politics.
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