Law clarified on ‘user generated content…’

Running a blog, it is not difficult to sense where the legal line is in your own writing, but it can be tough to maintain an ‘open door’ policy when some of our commentators so blatantly ‘fair game‘ or use the comment zone as a means to snipe at public figures and even members of blogging team… In general terms our policy is that where line has been crossed we are happy to take down material… Although there has been an ambiguity in the law up to know around what a blog owner might or might not be vulnerable, it appears it’s had some useful clarification:

Mr Justice Eady concluded that Newsquest websites were acting as hosts of the reader comments for the purposes of Regulation 19 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 and therefore would not be liable for any damages even if the material was unlawful.

He said Newsquest had fulfilled the conditions for protection under Regulation 19, namely that the comments had been posted directly to the sites by third party contributors without intervention by Newsquest, and that they had acted expeditiously to remove access to the material.

Newsquest’s head of legal, Simon Westrop, said: “We are grateful for a very clear judgment from the court which, in our view, is supportive of free expression on the internet.

“It should help website operators in similar circumstances to understand their responsibilities as regards the hosting of user-generated content, with the assurance that the law offers protection if they act correctly.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • DC

    @use the comment zone as a means to snipe at public figures

    Okay then – about our MLAs – you see the problem is “they toil not, neither do they spin.”

  • Sean

    HMMM DC I think you need to attach a name to that to make it noteworthy its very hard to libel or slander a group……especially with the truth

  • Turgon

    A fair point. One of the defences against libel is that what is said is the truth. I understand it works on the balance of probabilities, a less stiff test than beyond reasonable doubt as in criminal law.

    Here is another link on the subject: If someone thinks that what you wrote about them is either defamatory or damaging, the onus will be entirely on you to prove that your comments are true in court.

  • Sean

    Only if you use the truth defense Turgon, but I think the onus is initialy on the accuser to prove there was damage done. So first you would try and establish that the accusers reputation was not harmed mostly by showing that his reputation was not what he thinks it was, or am I wrong?

  • Turgon

    I am no expert: the links I included help a bit but seem a bit fuzzy on that one.

  • Sean

    Well you also have to include the calculation of potential damages recovered against the cost of recovering them

    For instance if you libel the guy that installed your carpet is it likely he will recover enough to take the risk of losing and paying the cost

    Ive been threatened to be sued for the content of one of my own sites by someone who stops by here now and again. I told him to go ahead and if he forwarded me the name of his legitimate solicitor I would forward my contact details. I chose this step just to protect myself against identity theft

    Never put anything on the internets you arent prepared to share with the world

  • joeCanuck

    That sounds like very good news, Mick.
    Do you always have a moderator hanging around?

  • borderline

    Ceist eile a Mhicí.

    Do you intend applying ‘unparliamentary language’ bans to abstentionists?

  • Rory Carr

    That’s a tricky one, Borderline. I suppose the answer has to be, “Only if they take the oath”.

  • Presumably this ruling still leaves open the possibility that the energetic litigant will pursue the commenter. I don’t know but would guess that the website owner would have to hand over IP address etc if it was demanded.

  • “Never put anything on the internets you arent prepared to share with the world”

    Why not let the public service do it for you, Sean? 🙂