back to article UK defamation law reforms take effect from start of 2014

Justice minister Lord McNally has told the House of Lords that the new Defamation Act, which received Royal Assent in April, will take effect from the start of next year. New regulations, which govern the process website operators must follow when informed about alleged defamatory comments on their site to avoid becoming …

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  1. dervheid

    But does that mean...

    we'll still be able to call, say, David Cameron, a "complete and utter cuntbucket" for example?

    Or will he now be able to spit out his dummy, metaphorically speaking, and have the comment taken down?

    1. Jim 59
      Joke

      Re: But does that mean...

      You can do that on Youtube any time, but your nuanced argument and delicate language will only confuse the Youtubers.

    2. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: But does that mean...

      Only if I can still say it is my honest opinion that Tony Blair is a cockwomble . Sadly we would both likely be right.

      The real issue is trying to judge if a statement is an opinion and or or substantiated fact which are both fine or uninformed shyte. The latter is not ok. The real test will be if this law is then accessible to normal people or just trust fund babies who are videotaped cheating on their wives in a basement with some rather fine ladies with whips.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But does that mean...

      Correction: "Right Honourable Cuntbucket" ...

  2. Beau
    Happy

    Honest opinion?

    Just start every comment with "In my honest opinion", or end with, "That is my honest opinion".

    Perhaps you should use both, just to be sure?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Honest opinion?

      it would seem. in this case at least, that honest opinion AND fact are intrinsically linked...

      Not only is it my opinion he is a swarmy tory twat whom has no idea what happens beyond his front fucking door, it's also a fact....

      1. Phil W

        Re: Honest opinion?

        Isn't there HTML5 for this sort of thing?

        <IMHO>If not there bloody well should be!</IMHO>

  3. localzuk

    Doesn't seem to be much different

    In terms of defining defamation, it doesn't seem much different to before. Defamation has always been making a comment which causes damage to someone's reputation and the defense has always been it being true or you reasonably held the view to be true (eg. if you relayed the view after reading it in a well regarded newspaper etc...).

    The key difference appears to be the regulations for website operators, and making it easier to track down whoever made defamatory comments.

    At least in this case the law appears to balance the right of free speech somewhat well, compared to the us DMCA which uses a shoot first ask questions later approach.

    1. Richard Wharram

      Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

      Actually it is quite a bit different. You'd be surprised at how fucked up the old law was.

      Google for libel reform and bca vs simon singh.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

      There is no right of free speech in the UK.

      1. 96percentchimp

        Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

        There is a right to free speech under human rights legislation, there is also a responsibility not to abuse it under defamation law, which seems like a reasonable balance for a civilised society to pursue. IMHO, these changes are progress in the right direction. Trolls may disagree.

        1. gnufrontier

          Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

          "seems like a reasonable balance for a civilised (sic) society to pursue."

          It may be true but we will have to wait for the appearance of a civilized society to determine if that is a fact or just an opinion. A reading of history suggests that a civilized society is the opinion that those who live in a powerful society have of their own society. The inherent bias is "might makes right" which has been the case since the appearance of cities proved to be a stronger form of organization than disparate groups of subsistence agriculturalists and pastoral nomads.

          I don't know that there has ever been a society classified as civilized that has not had economic gain as the value that trumps all other values. As Toynbee observed, "civilization is a very thin skin".

          This new law in effect is an example. The law is after all about financial compensation and the absence of a mechanism for those of modest means to take advantage of it underscores the inherent bias.

          It is difficult to know what is balance when one can't see the pressure being placed by a thumb on one side of the scale.

          1. JDC

            Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

            "seems like a reasonable balance for a civilised (sic) society to pursue."

            Why the "(sic)"? Both "civilised" and "civilized" are correct English...

            1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge
              Headmaster

              Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

              The "sic" could be OK if he meant that he didn't consider UK society as civilised. Like when Gandhi was asked what he thought of western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."

      2. localzuk

        Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

        @AC - The Human Rights Act codifies the right to free speech in the UK. So, yes, we do have a right to free speech in the UK.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

          Until the government decide otherwise.

          Either wholly or on a case by case basis.

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Intelligence share and growth cannot be denied ....

    ...... for such is only a natural rapid evolution that admittedly can easily spawn revolution

    And what sanction and punishment is to be exacted and collected from those and/or that* who bring a prosecution attempt that fails to counter the truth test?

    Or is it all very one-sided piece of desperate legislation trying to curtail rising dissent and disillusionment with ruling command and control practices?

    *Let's keep it real and get right royally personal and remember to never forget that organisations and institutions and governments and banks etc don't make decisions, the leading ranking team member/members do, and are thus culpable and responsible and accountable for all done on their watch with their consent and compliance/silent disregard for active effective defence against abuse and misuse of powers and controls.

  5. Aitor 1

    VPNs

    So it is VPN time to russia for posting in Western nations?

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: VPNs

      "So it is VPN time to russia for posting in Western nations?"

      It's not clear, from what I read in the article, what happens to authors that *do* consent to the removal of their comments. If you say "yes", the comments are removed, then what?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: VPNs

        > what happens to authors that *do* consent to the removal of their comments. If you say "yes", the comments are removed, then what?

        Typical of the UK, to make laws as obtuse and complicated as possible, yet full of holes, so that they can be used for anything and against anyone. :-/

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, while we can...

    Oi Cameron - you complete and utter snobnosedhoitytoitycuntybarstewardwankknobbingplank!

    I'm sure this a widely held opinion that is bound to be the truth!

    Is the El Reg libel?

    On a serious note, how could this possibly work? For example, my account details here are somewhat light on the truth, the only relevant thing being an email address - so El Reg could pass my email address on to Cameron's cronies, but then what - are they allowed to go to Google? And there, the account is somewhat light on the truth too, so how far does it go??

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So, while we can...

      ddrzl2m+4vubwc@sharklasers.com

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: So, while we can...

      "On a serious note, how could this possibly work? For example, my account details here are somewhat light on the truth, the only relevant thing being an email address - so El Reg could pass my email address on to Cameron's cronies, but then what - are they allowed to go to Google? And there, the account is somewhat light on the truth too, so how far does it go??"

      *cough* GCHQ *cough*

      1. Miek
        Linux

        Re: So, while we can...

        "*cough* GCHQ *cough*" -- Yes, I am sure that finding the culprit behind a defamatory comment on the internet is well within the remit of the intelligence services. </sarc>

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: So, while we can...

          ""*cough* GCHQ *cough*" -- Yes, I am sure that finding the culprit behind a defamatory comment on the internet is well within the remit of the intelligence services. </sarc>"

          Why do you think they were building a database of communications if it were not to punish Internet users? Terrorists and paedophiles? Come on...

      2. Deano2099

        Re: So, while we can...

        The Reg emails you asking if it can take down your comments. You either reply and say yes, and they do, you reply and say no, and they request your contact details to pass onto the complainant, or you don't reply (either by choice or because you gave a fake/unused email) and they take the comments down anyway.

        The only time they'll leave the comments up is if you reply in the affirmative, agreeing to take on the complaint yourself, and providing your actual identity and contact details. You never have to do that, and you're still entitled to your anonymity, it just means that your comments will get taken down.

        Which all seems fairly reasonable to me.

        1. Eguro

          Re: So, while we can...

          Except that a comment being posted by a random anonymous person will have a hard time convincing anyone - and so will likely not cause economic harm. Once that comment is suddenly identified with "well known person" or someone actual - Professor of X - the comment can now suddenly be believed.

          So the revelation of the author can cause the comment to become libellous.

          1. Nuke
            Holmes

            @Eguro - Re: So, while we can...

            Wrote :- "a comment being posted by a random anonymous person will have a hard time convincing anyone"

            That's certainly not true. There have been many anonymous rumours (or revelation of facts) that have resulted in history-changing events. For example, the Labour Party back in the 20's lost serious numbers of votes (and maybe elections) because of rumours put about that they were financed by the Bolsheviks. King James II lost his throne in 1688 largely because of a rumour that his claimed newborn son (to his queen who was believed to be infertile), was in fact a maidservant's baby. The son was later nicknamed "Pretender" on this basis (later "The Old Pretender"), a serious handicap to his efforts to stage a counter-revolution.

            On the contrary, if these rumours had identifiable sources they could probably have been discredited more easlily.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So, while we can...

          @ Deano2099

          'request your contact details to pass onto the complainant'

          Yes, my contact details are:

          393 London Road

          Hadleigh

          Benfleet

          Essex

          SS7 2BY

          Tel 01702 555407

          Feel free to ring any time

          1. Miek
            Linux

            Re: So, while we can...

            Smooth move AC, smooth move!

            393 London Road, SS7 2BY:

            "Intim Eurostyle Sex Aids & Lingerie"

      3. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: So, while we can...

        Ahhhh you seem to misunderstand. When you say things about rich people (that may or may not be true) you are obviously a terrorist, as you are in the UK it would be the NSA who would know about you and your email address courtesy of the you break my laws and I'll crap on your constitution act between these two great nations, home of democracy and the free world.

    3. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: So, while we can...

      @AC 0920

      1. What you wrote is an opinion. It does not have to be a wise and considered opinion, only one which other people might hold. In my opinion such people are stupid.

      2. Of course you can be traced if someone is willing to pay lawyers and their "dark side" contractors. It was neatly put by two old lags in a cheap American thriller I once read: "If they wanchyer, they gotchya".

  7. MJI Silver badge

    Don't forget the otehr two

    Not fair just to pick on Cameron.

    Millipede is feeling left out, as is Compo's friend

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't forget the otehr two

      Nobody gives a shit about milliband.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    What the law says makes no difference

    ... as website owners will never, ever be in a position to spend the money needed to defend themselves against something a pseudo-anonymous poster wrote. Merely the threat of legal action and the amount of dosh needed just to contest the simple, early complaint will be enough to make most websites cave with nary a whimper. In fact, pretty much the situation we have now.

    So we'll still be in a position where any company that feels it's been the victim of the truth a smear, only has to bang out a threatening letter and .... whoosh! the comment will be expunged so quickly that Prof. Hawking will have to be called in to rewrite the laws of Physics,

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: What the law says makes no difference

      Pete 2,

      That's not true. The whole point of this excercise is that now a comment can be stood up, so long as the commentard is willing to stand up and be counted. At which point the cost of defending their comment is moved to them.

      Otherwise the website has to delete it or face the consequences, and quite right too. They can't be held responisble if they're willing to delete, which is a fair balance. It means you can safely allow comments, that there's even a safe method to leave the nasty ones up (which in reality will almost never happen) as if the commenter was up for a public fight, they'd have done it in a less roundabout manner.

      So what's actually happened is that we've lowered the costs of moderation (risks of moderation failure) for websites, and protected people somewhat from anonymous alegations. After all, El Reg mostly have little more knowledge about their commentards than the victim of any nasty comment - so have no way of proving it's true.

      On the other hand, if I've found the evidence of collusion between the Illuminati and say The International Cute Teddybear And Loveliness Corporation plc, and weirdly chosen to publish that in a comment on El Reg - then I can pass my details via El Reg to TICTALC plc and have my day in court.

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Re: What the law says makes no difference

        > a comment can be stood up, so long as the commentard is willing to stand up and be counted

        Yes, I appreciate that this law rearranges the responsibilities - much like rearranging deck chairs. But the basic injustice still stands. That mega-corp only has to send out a letter to effectively suppress any comments that they might / do / could decide were not wholly to their benefit. The problem is not so much who gets that letter posted into whichever orifice is open at the time (unless you're the hosting website), but that ALL IT TAKES to suppress a comment is the price of a stamp, as there is no practical or affordable alternative to folding.

        No individual or website owner is in a financial position to defend their comment - even if they believe it is either relevant, not defamatory or can be backed up by evidence they actually possess. The cost of getting in to the game, let alone ante-ing up spells financial ruin for all but the most well-heeled. That's the reason the law makes no difference, because the law never has a chance to get involved. The law is still only for the rich.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: What the law says makes no difference

          "But the basic injustice still stands. That mega-corp only has to send out a letter to effectively suppress any comments that they might / do / could decide were not wholly to their benefit."

          But what comments are "not wholly to their benefit"? As far as I can see, if I stand up and say megacorp are a wunch of bankers then 99% of megacorps will simply ignore it because they've heard of the Streisand effect. (For the 1% of megacorps who haven't heard of the Streisand effect, nothing is more educational than raining libel writs on Joe Public. Such corps will learn or perish.)

          To actually incur the wrath of their lawyers, my statement has to look like it is making a specific allegation against them, like they ripped me off. In *that* case, their lawyers might want to consider that I might actually have documentary evidence proving that, in my case, they failed to "live up to their high standards of customer service". If I have my day in court and convince my peers that I have a case, it is then quite legal for *everyone* to say that megacorp are a wunch of proven bankers.

          It's not all stacked on the side of the rich megacorps. Consider how Starbucks responded to the tax brouhaha by making some voluntary payments to the Inland Revenue. They had the law on their side and weren't even taken to court and they *still* felt they needed to give way for the sake of PR.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how...

    will this affect websites that are not hosted in GB ?

    1. itzman

      Re: how...

      I suspect that if the maintainer exists under British jurisdiction he could be pursued.

  10. itzman

    It may cut both ways.

    For example. when commenters claim that XYZ company is polluting the planet, and causing thousands of deaths, they may get called upon to actually prove it for a change.

    1. M Gale

      Re: It may cut both ways.

      Okay.

  11. Miek
    Linux

    I think we should have another 'internet silence' day where all websites either switch off or serve a black screen instead of the actual web page.

  12. Al fazed
    IT Angle

    So saying that

    Thames Water gave many of the inhabitants of Oxford and surrounding villages cryptosporadium poisoning during the 1980's would have to be proved in court by Thames Water to be incorrect and in fact defamatory ?

    About fucking time .................. IMHO what a bunch of irresponsible bastards the leading team at Thames Water must have been back then. And no, I am still NOT paying my fucking water bill, take me to court you conniving numpties.

    So what happened to the mask icon, is it now considered defamatory to use it ?

    ALF

    1. teebie

      Re: So saying that

      I draw your attention to "from start of 2014".

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: So saying that

      The new law demands that substantial financial damage be caused.

      With monopolies like water companies, the customer cannot switch to another supplier. Hence no damage caused, no damages payable. Unless the water company could show that people had been dissuaded from moving into their patch.

  13. TheDoc

    What about small sites?

    There are millions of small web sites out there run by one person. What happens when that person goes on holiday? Are they expected to find a way to check e-mail every 2 days to check if there is a takedown notice on comments on their web site? Seems like this law didn't think about the long tail.

    1. Fletchulence

      Re: What about small sites?

      I'm a person with small websites. I moderate UGC for pretty much this reason (I didn't need a change in the law to know unmoderated UGC quickly gets out of control).

      Not suggesting moderation should be mandatory, just that it's a good practice.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about small sites?

      Presumably that's why there's the bit in the Regulations that allows the court to treat a late action as being in time if it's in the interests of justice.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What could possibly go wrong?

    So can we now expect vigilant companies to have automated procedures for complaining about every post that they don't like? Or, more likely, hire an agency to do it on their behalf, regardless of whether they suffered any real harm?

    It seems to me there's too little cost to the complainant in this system. In return for an email to a website operator they can now take down any content that bothers them or, alternatively, compile a list of contact details of everyone who utters a word of complaint.

    Where's the penalty for making a bogus complaint in all this?

    1. Eguro

      Re: What could possibly go wrong?

      One could maybe argue that a company complaining that a comment is libellous - which is then proven to not be so, has actually cause harm to the original commentator by attacking his reputation as a good source for knowledge? Counter-suit?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: What could possibly go wrong?

      I don't believe there's anything in the regulations making this process secret. So El Reg (for example) might choose to not take down the comments, after all they're a publisher so must have access to legal advice on hand, or they might simply choose to publish the takedown requests as news items. That should deal quite nicely with frivolous ones, if they happen.

    3. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: What could possibly go wrong?

      > It seems to me there's too little cost to the complainant in this system

      Spot on.

      All that needs to happen is for Mega-corp's lackeys to do a quick Google for the company name each and every morning. Get the URLs of the mentioners, cross off the list the ones who've simply re-printed the company approved press release and fire off take-down notices to all the rest.

      Just getting as far as a court hearing will cost in the £ five-figures, with no legal aid available and a full judgment can multiply that by 10 times. Plus, no defence lawyers would take on the year-long preparation for a case without some up-front guarantees that their fees would be paid (win or lose - especially: lose) which would basically mean any defendant having to pony-up the largest wad they're ever likely to see, to even start to defend themselves.

      All for the "privilege" of calling Mega-corp a bunch of lying shysters? Hardly.

  15. Roo

    Seems a bit dumb.

    From the article it appears that commentards would now have the opportunity to have another commentard's posts removed or even hurl a sue-ball at them. Commentards routinely denigrate people's skills, so I'm expecting a lot of removed posts and lawsuits. :)

  16. codeusirae

    A defamatory statement ..

    `Under the Defamation Act, a statement can be said to be defamatory if its publication "caused or is likely to cause serious harm" to individuals' or businesses' reputation. However, only if businesses have suffered, or are likely to suffer, "serious financial loss", can they bring a claim of defamation against commentators`

    What happens if the statement is true, and subsequently the defamee was found to have perjured himself in Court.

    1. LOW
      Stop

      Re: A defamatory statement ..

      Aah, now there's the rub "caused or is likely to cause serious harm" to individuals' or businesses' reputation"

      I think that most of us, readers (and probably most readers of most web content in general) agree that politicians are lying thieving, very dangerous wankers.

      Having spent some considerable time hanging around with these (in my opinion) proto-humans, it seems to me that only people who think that politicians, and big industrialists, like the Rockerfellas, Greenbergs, etc have a good reputation are other politicians, big industrialists, lobbyists, hangers on and HR twats, who still think that a pyramid is the way to govern an agile organisation.

      In my opinion, the "reputation" of politicians has been irrevocably damaged by their actions over the last four decades that I've spent on this planet, to the point where no further damage can be done. To say that Cameron is a self serving little cunt and Blair a terrorist, is, in my opinion a gross understatement. Likewise, Monsanto - bio-terrorism from farm to fork, in my (very informed) opinion is also an understatement.

      So who decides that someone ( or the mythical corporate "person") has a good reputation to defend in the first place? Does the court put it out for a (inter)national vote or is just membership of the Old World Order or big business qualification enough?

      Any ideas?

      1. Roo

        Re: A defamatory statement ..

        "So who decides that someone ( or the mythical corporate "person") has a good reputation to defend in the first place? Does the court put it out for a (inter)national vote or is just membership of the Old World Order or big business qualification enough?

        Any ideas?"

        I'll bite. How about they assume they *have* a good reputation in the first place (as you would expect with a crony judiciary).

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do I have to be surrounded by bent, corrupt, greedy selfish, stupid, lowlife scum?

    Bloody English!

    Those who are supposed to be in power even worse.

    (in my honest opinion)

  18. i like crisps

    Insult or Injury? Which would be defamatory?

    Insult #1: Politicians are all CUNTS.

    Insult #2: All Apple product buyers are ZOMBIES.

    Injury #1: A Politician (to be named) has sex with chickens... FACT!!

    Injury #2: The GLUE in Apple's latest tablet will give you CANCER...FACT!!

    I can see the problem with the INJURY side of this, as its being presented as

    FACT, when in fact they're LIES. As for the INSULT side i can't see there being

    a problem as its only an opinion about someone or something which wouldn't

    impact emotionally or financially on a an individual or company.

    Could be WRONG.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Insult or Injury? Which would be defamatory?

      > Injury #1: A Politician (to be named) has sex with chickens... FACT!!

      Eugh! Disgusting. What kind of pervert would do that? Those chickens should have their arses sued off!!!

    2. Miek
      Linux

      Re: Insult or Injury? Which would be defamatory?

      If you insult someone, in public, with the intent to cause distress or alarm you are guilty (technically) of committing a public order offence.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear Reg Lawyers ..

    What if someone posted a link to a blog that allegedly violated the act, are you still liable. I wonder will this act be used to suppress certain unpleasant alleged allegations regarding some very important people. ref

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dear Reg Lawyers ..

      Fair question.

      Also, what if someone were to pose a question such as, "Did David Cameron, when employed as Director of Corporate Affairs for Carlton Communications, collude with John Majors government to ensure that certain evidential material of alleged illegal activity (in the form of a Cook Report) 'disappeared'?"

      Does defamation need to take the form of a statement, as current law seems to suggest? Or can one be found guilty of defamation by way of implication (as in the above illustration)?

      Anyone know?

  20. Andrew Jones 2

    Technically if I use Disqus, Google+ or Facebook for my commenting system - the comments are not ON my site - they are on some 3rd party site that I do not control. Any requests for comment removal should be directed at the 3rd party and not me.

    If necessary I could prove this by simply opening Developer Tools in Chrome and showing that the data on AndroidPolice for instance are served from the Disqus server. Just because the comments are displayed ON my site - it doesn't make them part of my site - in the same way that an offensive advert that shows on my site is not put there by me - and I have very little control over what is displayed.

    I can see 2014 shaping up to be an interesting year - either this law will prove to be unworkable or a dangerous precedent will be set whereby you are responsible for any content that appears on your site regardless of whether you have any control over it.

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

  22. JaitcH
    Meh

    So move your chatroom servers to the USA

    where speech is protected.

    If you check, most of the papers are based on servers away from the UK. The Reg is coming from all over these days ... except China. Makes it hard to select the optimum satellite InterNet source. For cable destinations to the West we use a Singapore cable, for the East-bound we use a HongKong cable.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So move your chatroom servers to the USA

      > where speech is protected.

      Which is why they're so keen on getting their hands on Mr. Snowden, to give him a medal I suppose? And that's why Ms. Manning seems to have been rewarded with free room and board for a few decades, eh?

      Protected speech my arse.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Usenet anyone?

    Is this limited to web sites?

    Not much point in issuing take down notices for Usenet posts.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Usenet anyone?

      Not much point in issuing take down notices for Usenet posts.

      If only that were because of the decentralised nature of NNTP, and not because USENET died on its arse under a flood of spam a decade ago.

      Mention USENET to most Internet users these days, they'll probably give you a blank stare and say something like "so it's a bit like Google Groups, then?"

      Sigh.

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