Authorities in the United Kingdom are eager to eradicate libel tourism and allow for a greater degree of Internet free speech, while at the same time providing ample opportunity for defamed individuals to have libelous content removed from the Web.
Current Online Defamation Laws In The United Kingdom
While free speech is just as important to Queen Elizabeth’s subjects as it is to U.S. Citizens, the U.K.’s Defamation Act of 1996 does little to uphold the ideal. Section I of the statute does provide a modicum of litigation protection for passive website operators, but the law says that operators can be held libel for any defamatory statements if notice was given and removal was refused. Since most website owners don’t have the legal IQ to determine the validity of a defamation claim, they just remove items at the first whiff of trouble.
Defamation Regulations In The United States
When it comes to defamation, section 230 of the United State’s Federal Communications Decency Act largely absolves website operators and hosting providers from fault. In the U.S., the law does not distinguish between selective and impartial online publishers; in other words, unless a website operator “develops” defamatory content, they don’t need to fear losing a defamation lawsuit on American soil.
Case Study: Shiamili v. The Real Estate Group Of New York
This year, an important online defamation case was heard by the New York Court of Appeals – Shiamili V. The Real Estate Group of New York. Shiamilli, the plaintiff and realty company owner, brought an Internet defamation lawsuit against Real Estate Group of New York principals who administered a publicly accessible blog.
The trouble began when a commenter with the handle “Ardor Realty Sucks” left a comment in a post thread that accused Shiamili of anti-Semitism, bigotry and employee mistreatment. Upon seeing the post, a site administrator (editor), moved the comment to its own thread and added a photo mash-up of Shiamili and Jesus with the caption, “King of the Token Jews.” The promoted post also allegedly bore the assertion “we are so not afraid.”
Shiamili drafted and posted a response on the thread and contacted the website operators asking them to remove what he considered to be defamatory material. The administrators refused Shiamili’s request, and he, in turn, filed an online defamation lawsuit. The defendants then moved to have the lawsuit dismissed, citing Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act.
Shiamili V. The Real Estate Group of New York was significant in that it was the first time that the New York Court of Appeals ruled on an Internet defamation claim. Choosing to adhere to the “national consensus,” the presiding judges ruled — in a 4-3 decision — to dismiss the case on the grounds that the administrators of the site did not “develop” the actual content in question, but instead, simply engaged in a bit editing.
There was, however, strong push-back amongst the panel of judges. “A reasonable reader,” the dissenting opinion argued, “viewing the heading and illustration might very well have concluded that the site editor was endorsing the truth of the appended facts.” In other words, several of the judges felt the editor’s promotion of the comment, and subsequent image and caption embellishments, constituted “development of content.”
But in a U.S. court of law, the majority wins; so the case was dismissed. In the United Kingdom, however, Shiamili would have most likely emerged as the victorious party.
The Future Of Libel Tourism
Due to the liberal nature of the United Kingdom’s libel statutes, in the past, many U.S. citizens have turned to UK courts when trying to win an online defamation lawsuit. A burden on the their legal system, however, officials in the European country are pushing to establish laws that dissuade foreigners from clogging up their courts with defamation cases that have little to do with UK subjects.
Need a attorney for an online defamation case? Aaron Kelly is an Internet lawyer well-versed in cyber-libel. He has a tremendous amount of experience dealing with online libel cases in both the United States and abroad.