John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Friday, December 19, 2008
  Bloggers, Libel, The EU and Bridget Prentice
There have been a few thrashings around in cyberspace about the EU and blogging and potential changes to the law to make "suing bloggers easier".

Obligatory Disclaimer: My formal qualifications are in Nuclear Physics not law. If you follow my advice on law as opposed to how to blow the world up, don't sue me if I am wrong.

However, I have been on both ends of libel actions as well as assisted as a Mackenzie Friend in a Malicious Falsehood action (which was the funniest court case I ever attended).

Libel is an interesting area of law. It along with Privacy, enciting hatred and Contempt of Court are the key areas in which constraints of Freedom of Speech apply. There was an interesting event about libel tourism before the summer recess.

First point.

Britain has libel laws which make it quite easy to sue. For someone to win the defendant needs to be unable to prove what they said about the claimant is true. In the USA the claimant needs to prove what the defendant says is false.

You can sue for Libel in the small claims court, but the costs are unclaimable by either side and the maximum penalty is 5K.

The EU came out with some woffle about the status of bloggers being indeterminate which basically means any old individual can write a blog. And what is wrong with that. The ad hominem fallacy is a fallacy, but most people rely on it. It remains that it is a fallacy and that nonsense from the EU has to be binned.

Then we have Bridget Prentice's response on the Libel debate. I have not bothered to go back to source (which I really should), but what people have quoted as evidence for a major threat to blogging isn't.

Alex Hilton has had a lot of silly actions against him and spent quite a bit of money with lawyers. The problem is the money spent with lawyers that cannot eb recovered. The solution for Alex is to learn how to do this as a Litigant in Person.

In the mean time (and rightly) we have the odd situation that someone who moderates comments can be liable for libel, but someone who doesn't moderate comments cannot.

It is a bit like the argument about suing a fax machine manufacturer for the content of faxes. If you have no control then you cannot be sued.


There are issues about the magnitude of costs, but I really cannot see how Bridget Prentices comments cause any problems for bloggers.
 
Comments:
Thank you John, I agree completely. This was a debate the libel law reformers were pushing for and an overhaul is clearly needed. Padraig from Index on Censorship observed the debate and has also written a follow up answering the spurious concerns raised.

I do wish people would do some basic fact checking before flying off the handle—some day they're going to believe something that's defamatory and get sued...

(I love that you know how risky moderation is but still use it BTW)
 
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