back to article Proposed change in libel law may shield websites

The Government could scrap a part of defamation law that makes newspapers liable many times for material in a single article. The Government may prevent people suing every time a web page 'publishes' an article. Defamation law currently states that someone has the right to sue every time defamatory material is published. This …


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  1. Martin 6 Silver badge

    And lose all that business?

    The UK's lawyers make a fortune out of libel case shopping - London is the best place in the world to try a libel case. The courts almost always side with the rich/famous person claiming libel. So a bunch of QCs make a fortune and hotels, restaurants etc take a cut.

    Any chance that a government made up of ex-lawyers is going to change this?

  2. MinionZero

    Sounds like lawyers trying to game the system...

    "Part of the law on defamation originates from the 1840s, long before the internet arrived" ... But not longer than published newspapers, therefore ... "if a court agrees that the mere delivery of a web page to a reader counts as publication." ... which is no different than delivering a newspaper to each house in a street. They don't add up the number of houses they deliver the newspaper to in a street so why add up the number of times a web site delivers a page. They also don't add up the number of libraries holding a book for years that is considerable liable or add up the number of people borrowing that book.

    Sounds very much like the lawyers were fishing for more money out of websites than from paper published media, but then lawyers are in business as much as everyone else and so they have to develop their business. Its just we have to consider their new business developments as uncrossable laws, so they can game the system in their favor.

    p.s. TheReg could we have Italics in posts please, that way we can highlight where we are cut and pasting and labeling and libeling etc... :) ... plus then the grammmmar nazis can also have fun counting and highlighting the number of toe curling and's I just used ;)

  3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    A ridiculous idea

    Some newspaper or other publishes, gets done for defamation, and is then free to publish that defamation whenever it feels the need to and can do so without risk of being sued again ? Ridiculous.

    There are two main principles in rectifying a defamation; removal of that defamation, and compensation for it. Obviously it's not possible to remove the defamation with respect to printed and already distributed material.

    I don't see how defamation laws have a "chilling effect" on the rights of free speech; you publish a defamation, you expect to get sued, you do it again, you expect to get sued again. If told to remove a defamatory article, you do so, or expect to be hauled in for contempt of court.

    That's how it is, that's how it should be.

  4. steward

    This should be a no-brainer

    If a newspaper's daily run is 40,000 copies, is that 40,000 publications? Of course not.

    If I buy a newspaper and ten other people in my office read it as well, does that count as 11 publications? Of course not.

    Accessing a webpage is getting a personal look at one publication, just as the two examples above are. Any other definition of publication with respect to the 'net is ludicrous.

  5. Doc Spock

    Potential for Viewing Libelous Stories

    Surely, the damages awarded in a libel case should be related to the number of people that are likely to have read the story? In print publishing, this would correspond roughly to the number of papers sold (*not* printed); on TV this would correspond roughly to the number of viewers that the program has; and on the Web, it would correspond roughly to the number of *unique* page views. And if other news sites pick up the story, then *they* are liable because they have not checked the facts properly** (search sites and aggregators should not fall into this category though).

    Of course, the precise number in each example is harder to pin down than in the previous one, but that's where the lawyers/judge/etc. come in.

    As for the issue of an archived story, the publishers should be required to add a "we're made this whole thing up" notice, or modify it accordingly. It's not like the technology doesn't exist to do this...

    ** and this will serve them right for engaging in sloppy journalism.

  6. Charles Manning

    Publishing != Printing

    If people want to try to fit existing law to current technology, then they need to get a better grip on things.

    Publish is surely equivalent to posting something on a blog/website etc.

    Individual page serving to a punter is surely equivalent to the printing of a single newspaper rather than a re-publication.

  7. Dr Patrick J R Harkin


    Delivering to two different houses in a street doesn't represent two offences; printing the same article in two different issues of the paper does.

    It is tempting to regard an on-line archive as the same as a paper archive, but it is not. If I go to my local library and get a copy of The Times from January, it is obvious that I hold in my hand (on on microfiche) an old publication. If I retrieve an article from the web, it is not obvious whether I have today's hot gossip or last years tired hackery. Attempts to argue by analogy are therefore likely to run into problems.

    My feeling is that the first web hit counts as a "publication" and all subsequent hits count as additions to the size of publication (just as a libel in a national broadsheet with a readership of millions might be regarded as more serious than a libel in a local newsletter, a publicationin The Register would be more serious than a publication in The Islington Parking Meter Spotters Association homepage). Publishing another web page with the same information, however, would be a second offence.

    However, I suspect this might be regarded as a sensible approach, and hence inevitably will be rejected out of hand by a legal tribunal.

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    Half the problem

    One change that needs to be made here is that it should only be possible to sue for libel over something written and published in the country, not something published elsewhere that someone brought over in their bag, imported mail order or was reproduced on the web.

    But that would run the libel tourism gravy train into the buffers, so it ain't going to happen.

    The other change that desperately needs to made is that it should be abso-bloody-lutely, 100% impossible for something to be considered libellous if it's, er, true*. Personally I think it should be down to the plaintiff to prove that, on the balance of probability, it isn't.

    *So it should be perfectly ok to describe someone convicted of fraud as a "convicted fraudster" or a "crook" even if they are considering an appeal or have one pending. I mention no names, for obvious reasons, but if it helps any the conviction I'm thinking of is a French one.....

  9. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: A ridiculous idea

    "Some newspaper or other publishes, gets done for defamation, and is then free to publish that defamation whenever it feels the need to and can do so without risk of being sued again ? Ridiculous."

    Indeed, and if you re-read the article, that's not the complaint here.

    Some newspaper or other publishes, gets done for defamation, and is then done again and again for defamation every time somebody picks up a copy of the newspaper and reads it. Ridiculous, but that's how the law (allegedly) stands for online publications.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Why always invent special status for the web ?

    For Heaven's sake, publishing is the same thing on the web and on paper. There are libel laws that work perfectly well for newspapers that are printed in the hundreds of thousands of copies - so why can that same law not apply to web stuff ? Because it's electronic ? Because lawmakers can't actually find their rump without both hands ? Because some meddlesome lobbying party managed to push such stupidity in the first place ?

    There are intelligent people on this planet - I'm sure of it. I don't know where they are, but maybe someone could, one day, have one of them take a look and set things straight concerning the Internet and libel.

    Two previous remarks in this thread are spot on, so _someone_ should be able to translate that into lawyerspeak and have at it, no ?

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