Monday, July 31, 2006

Free speech, libel and the internet age

This is an article by Michael Geist for BBC News Monday, 31 July 2006
Some quotes from the article:

 .... many ISPs and websites remove content in response to unproven claims, even if they privately doubt that the content is indeed defamatory.

Given how easily content can be forced off the internet with claims of defamation, the law creates a significant restriction on free speech.
Intermediaries are understandably reluctant to ignore threats of litigation, yet without a legal safe harbour that protects them from liability, it is likely that the number of questionable defamation claims will continue to rise.
Addressing the free speech issue would require legislative change.

In this case an intermediary is an ISP that hosts a blog or a website. The owner of the website or blog is the primary and they could be the ones accused of posting defamatory material or host comments from visitors.

Micheal's article discusses the Hemming vs. Newton case, where Nikki Hemmings of Sharman Networks filed a defamation complaint against Jon Newton, the owner and moderator of reporting that Hemming had "denied hastily selling her multimillion dollar Sydney mansion and sending the proceeds to the tax haven of Vanuatu." The article (Jon Newtons's) also allegedly quoted anonymous comments in P2Pnet forums that were highly critical of Hemming and Sharman Networks.

Update May 2012
I am not sure whether any laws have changed since this article as posted. Certainly, Michael's prediction that questionable defamation claims being likely to increase seems to be the case.

I think it could be safely said that anything appearing on The Technology Muse is nothing on the scale of the Hemming v.s Newton Case.