Monday, 2 November 2009

Newspaper website not liable for reader comments

Is a newspaper website or other site (e.g. a blog) liable for comments made by readers, or indeed for other user-generated content (UGC), on their site?

Newsquest, which has several regional newspapers, ran a news story about a struck-off solicitor Imran Karim. He sued Newsquest for allegedly libellous reader comments made on Newsquest websites about the story.

An English court (Eady J) held that:

  1. Hosting defence. The newspaper websites here were simply acting as "hosts" of the reader comments for the purposes of Regulation 19 Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (NB that link is to original unamended version), and so wouldn't be liable in damages even if the comments were unlawful.
  2. Conditions. The judge said that Newsquest had satisfied the conditions for Regulation 19 protection, i.e. 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."

This of course must have been on the basis that the newspaper websites are "information society services". Would blogs be considered "information society services" even if they are personal and don't include any ads?

The point about "without intervention by Newsquest" suggests that if Newsquest had moderated reader comments, i.e. vetted them before allowing them to be published, it would have had a tougher time of it. So it's probably safer not to moderate comments or vet other user-generated content.

I haven't found the full transcript yet. No doubt it will be on Bailii in due course.

Meanwhile, here's one version of the original news item (sans the comments, of course, I'm not sure which specific local newspaper site they were on), from the Croydon Guardian: Crooked solicitor spent client money on 'a Rolex, loose women and drink'.

Source: HoldtheFrontPagevia Journalism.co.uk.

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