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Leveson lawyer: ISPs should block defamatory web content

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By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 22 Jan 2013 at 12:20

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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User comments

Stick to what you know

"my internet ideas are somewhat embryonic and require further work".

That's one way to describe it another would be ill-advised, ill-conceived, unworkable and lacks grasp of current state of ISP technology.

Or another way would be: over-paid lawyer jumps on quasi-moral bandwagon and spouts a tirade of ill-conceived faeces.

By Gogster on 22 Jan 2013

"... and require further work." Really?

Presumably he wants to make Arqiva liable for the content of TV programmes and OpenReach responsible for the content of telephone calls.

By TBennett on 22 Jan 2013

Isn't the proposed new defamation bill, currently working its way through parliament, meant to explicitly exempt ISPs from this sort of thing? If so Jay's legal ideas might need some work too!

By stuarthamlin on 22 Jan 2013

"Presumably he wants to make Arqiva liable for the content of TV programmes and OpenReach responsible for the content of telephone calls."

And the highways agency responsible for any criminals who use the roads to get to their nefarious activities.

By qpw3141 on 22 Jan 2013

So by this logic every newsagent should be responsible for the newspapers they sell and tv providers getting sued along side people who actually make the comments.

What he's basically proposing is a block on anything with user input because it could host libellous comments and twitter, facebook, etc. should go the way of TPB.

By tech3475 on 22 Jan 2013

We can learn a lot from China et al. They've successfully implemented measures with broadly similar end results for years.
Seriously though, his idea is to place the responsibility in the hands (and lawsuits in the lap of) the entities with the most money. ISPs may not be raking it in but they're a damn sight richer than most bloggers and loss-making web companies.

By Mark_Thompson on 22 Jan 2013

Great idea!

Some children were outside our local Tesco last night and swearing, being abusive and throwing snowballs into the store at customers.
Maybe we can sue the wombs responsible for delivering this content?

Seriously though, ambulance chaser drumming up work or what?

Perhaps Mr. Jay could sue himself for defamation of common sense and stupidity infringement!

By cheysuli on 22 Jan 2013

It's not much more ridiculous to say that my PC's monitor manufacturer is liable for displaying such defamatory content, as the ISP is for delivering it.

By extension if a slanderous phone call takes place, the phone company of whoever is on the receiving end should be liable too?

By halsteadk on 22 Jan 2013

Paperboys.......

thoroughly check the contents of your bag before delivering those golden headed scandal sheets.

By synaptic_fire on 22 Jan 2013

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