ISPs hoping to benefit in libel law shake-up
By Stewart Mitchell
Posted on 7 Jan 2011 at 10:44
The ISP Association has welcomed proposed changes to the UK's libel laws outlined by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg which the trade group hopes will offer more protection for service providers.
Last November, the ISPA joined a host of industry and public interest groups calling for changes to archaic libel laws that Clegg will admit in a speech today were a “laughing stock”.
According to Clegg, a draft bill, expected to reach the statute book within two years, would turn "English libel laws from an international laughing stock to an international blueprint".
According to the ISPA, the UK's strict libel laws – which last year prompted the US to write legislation protecting US citizens from being sued for libel in the UK – are currently out of date and out of sync with the networked world.
The English law of defamation is having a disproportionate, chilling effect on online writers, e-communities and web hosts
“The English law of defamation is having a disproportionate, chilling effect on online writers, e-communities and web hosts,” the ISPA and leading ISPs wrote in a letter to the Government.
The ISPA believes the law needed changing because “internet service providers can be held liable for comments they host and therefore are inclined to take down material or websites even before the writer or publisher has been made aware of a complaint."
“ISPs should not be expected to play judge and jury in determining whether a writer’s material is defamatory or not,” it added.
The ISPs have been walking a tightrope for ten years since British physicist Laurence Godfrey successfully sued ISP Demon over an offending newsgroup message.
Whether Clegg's proposals will address all the ISPs' concerns remains unclear, but a spokesperson welcomed the fact that the issue was being put centre stage.
“We hope the laws will change the onus on the ISP to decide whether something is libellous or not or risk being held responsible,” a spokesperson for the ISPA told PC Pro. “We don't know the details yet, but hope to see progress.”
No chance of committing libel then...
By BornOnTheCusp on 7 Jan 2011
So what's the situation?
We had a landlord who "emigrated to avoid debts" and his managing agent collected rent for 6 more months without telling anyone it wasn't owed, then ran off with the tenants deposits. If I publish a webpage naming this *person* and detailing his dealing, companies etc. can he sue? Could he sue my ISP? How do you warn others without ending up on the wrong end of the law?
It seems crazy that you can't publish the facts because they *might* offend the cowboy in question.
By cheysuli on 7 Jan 2011
A lot of these libel cases are just people throwing their weight around and you can't really stop people making threats. As long as you do stick to the truth (and it's very easy to stray into speculation or assumptions) you've got a fairly good defence if they do take it anywhere.
By steviesteveo12 on 8 Jan 2011
I recently had a take-down order issued by my ISP relating to a blog post about a well-known private car park monitoring company.
My post contained no conjecture - nothing but fact and advice to people in my situation to do what I did (not pay).
Lawyers representing said cowboys contacted my ISP who then demanded my post was removed as it was defamatory (i.e. libelous) and breached their terms. They would/could not provide specific details about *why* it was defamatory, just that they'd been told it was so it had to be removed or my entire site would be pulled.
As far as I'm aware a judge has to decide if something's *actually* defamatory, so at worst my post was allegedly so, not actually so.
Regardless, I had no choice.
As Stevie says, it's people throwing their weight around. It costs nothing to make an allegation of libel, and costs the defendant a fortune proving it one way or the other. My ISP pooped its pants as it didn't want to risk being sued (Demon had been found liable some years ago, so the precedent is that the ISP would have to cough up for defence / damage costs).
Libel laws need changed regardless of technology. Look at the people who are still on the receiving end of this farcical legal situation from print media - Simon Singh to name one famous case.
By Mosher on 10 Jan 2011
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