Leveson lawyer: ISPs should block defamatory web content

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Robert Jay says broadband providers could be sued for providing access to defamatory material

ISPs should face legal censure for allowing customers to access defamatory material, according to a leading lawyer who worked on the Leveson inquiry into media behaviour.

In the initial report, Lord Justice Leveson skated around the issue of whether online entities should face the same legal scrutiny as newspapers and traditional publications.

Now the lead counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay, QC, has suggested that new laws could make ISPs liable for giving customers access to material that would normally see newspapers face penalties.

According to a report in The Times, Jay told a recent meeting of lawyers in Singapore that ISPs could be brought into line with other publishers, with potentially huge implications for the web.

My internet ideas are somewhat embryonic and require further work

"One possible way forward is to seek by statutory provision to bring ISPs within the scope of publishers for the purposes of the law of defamation, even if provision would need to be made for resultant claims to be served out of the jurisdiction," he said.

In an interview with The Times, Jay was asked whether his suggestion would place a duty on ISPs to stop customers accessing defamatory content, he replied: "You are 100% correct."

The comments will worry ISPs, who have long argued that they are mere conduits of information and that they should not be responsible for policing content.

That position has been the backbone of arguments against ISPs voluntarily blocking porn or copyright material, and Jay admitted the proposals would disturb "a hornet's nest" and said "my internet ideas are somewhat embryonic and require further work".

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