UK Libel Plans Could Change Online Interaction

The British government has plans to overhaul libel laws, which dates from the 19th century, and introduce radical changes to keep it in tune with how people communicate through new technology like the internet.

Central to the reform will be the role of online archives and how they are affected by the "multiple publication rule". The rule says, in a nutshell, that each time a particular article is downloaded from the web, the publication or online newspaper can be sued even years after it has been published.

But content online can be cached, linked, updated, copied, forwarded, which could be considered as republishing each and every time. Opponents to the current law propose a "single publication rule" which would allow only one claim to be made.

The consultation paper also calls for the limitation period for claims to be extended to three years after the article was initially published. Parties concerned can submit their proposals and comments before the 16th of December.

Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, said in a statement that "Existing defamation law needs to be updated so it is fit for the modern age, and it is important we listen to views on the best way to achieve this. Freedom to hold and express opinions is a right that is vital to democracy."

Our Comments

The new rules would be particularly pertinent for newspapers and blogs because as it stands, the libel laws are considered to be biased in favour of the complainant. The Times initially brought a test case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which was eventually dismissed.

Related Links

Ministry of Justice Launches Consultation on Defamation on the Internet

(Egovmonitor)

Debate over reforms to online defamation laws

(Reuters)

Plan to update libel law for web

(BBC)

Internet libel review launched

(Guardian)

Plan to update libel law for web

(Webuser)