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back to article UK defamation law reforms take effect from start of 2014

Justice minister Lord McNally has told the House of Lords that the new Defamation Act, which received Royal Assent in April, will take effect from the start of next year. New regulations, which govern the process website operators must follow when informed about alleged defamatory comments on their site to avoid becoming liable …

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But does that mean...

we'll still be able to call, say, David Cameron, a "complete and utter cuntbucket" for example?

Or will he now be able to spit out his dummy, metaphorically speaking, and have the comment taken down?

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Joke

Re: But does that mean...

You can do that on Youtube any time, but your nuanced argument and delicate language will only confuse the Youtubers.

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Re: But does that mean...

Only if I can still say it is my honest opinion that Tony Blair is a cockwomble . Sadly we would both likely be right.

The real issue is trying to judge if a statement is an opinion and or or substantiated fact which are both fine or uninformed shyte. The latter is not ok. The real test will be if this law is then accessible to normal people or just trust fund babies who are videotaped cheating on their wives in a basement with some rather fine ladies with whips.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But does that mean...

Correction: "Right Honourable Cuntbucket" ...

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Happy

Honest opinion?

Just start every comment with "In my honest opinion", or end with, "That is my honest opinion".

Perhaps you should use both, just to be sure?

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Re: Honest opinion?

it would seem. in this case at least, that honest opinion AND fact are intrinsically linked...

Not only is it my opinion he is a swarmy tory twat whom has no idea what happens beyond his front fucking door, it's also a fact....

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Re: Honest opinion?

Isn't there HTML5 for this sort of thing?

<IMHO>If not there bloody well should be!</IMHO>

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Doesn't seem to be much different

In terms of defining defamation, it doesn't seem much different to before. Defamation has always been making a comment which causes damage to someone's reputation and the defense has always been it being true or you reasonably held the view to be true (eg. if you relayed the view after reading it in a well regarded newspaper etc...).

The key difference appears to be the regulations for website operators, and making it easier to track down whoever made defamatory comments.

At least in this case the law appears to balance the right of free speech somewhat well, compared to the us DMCA which uses a shoot first ask questions later approach.

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Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

Actually it is quite a bit different. You'd be surprised at how fucked up the old law was.

Google for libel reform and bca vs simon singh.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

There is no right of free speech in the UK.

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Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

There is a right to free speech under human rights legislation, there is also a responsibility not to abuse it under defamation law, which seems like a reasonable balance for a civilised society to pursue. IMHO, these changes are progress in the right direction. Trolls may disagree.

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Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

"seems like a reasonable balance for a civilised (sic) society to pursue."

It may be true but we will have to wait for the appearance of a civilized society to determine if that is a fact or just an opinion. A reading of history suggests that a civilized society is the opinion that those who live in a powerful society have of their own society. The inherent bias is "might makes right" which has been the case since the appearance of cities proved to be a stronger form of organization than disparate groups of subsistence agriculturalists and pastoral nomads.

I don't know that there has ever been a society classified as civilized that has not had economic gain as the value that trumps all other values. As Toynbee observed, "civilization is a very thin skin".

This new law in effect is an example. The law is after all about financial compensation and the absence of a mechanism for those of modest means to take advantage of it underscores the inherent bias.

It is difficult to know what is balance when one can't see the pressure being placed by a thumb on one side of the scale.

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JDC

Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

"seems like a reasonable balance for a civilised (sic) society to pursue."

Why the "(sic)"? Both "civilised" and "civilized" are correct English...

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Headmaster

Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

The "sic" could be OK if he meant that he didn't consider UK society as civilised. Like when Gandhi was asked what he thought of western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."

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Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

@AC - The Human Rights Act codifies the right to free speech in the UK. So, yes, we do have a right to free speech in the UK.

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Re: Doesn't seem to be much different

Until the government decide otherwise.

Either wholly or on a case by case basis.

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Intelligence share and growth cannot be denied ....

...... for such is only a natural rapid evolution that admittedly can easily spawn revolution

And what sanction and punishment is to be exacted and collected from those and/or that* who bring a prosecution attempt that fails to counter the truth test?

Or is it all very one-sided piece of desperate legislation trying to curtail rising dissent and disillusionment with ruling command and control practices?

*Let's keep it real and get right royally personal and remember to never forget that organisations and institutions and governments and banks etc don't make decisions, the leading ranking team member/members do, and are thus culpable and responsible and accountable for all done on their watch with their consent and compliance/silent disregard for active effective defence against abuse and misuse of powers and controls.

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VPNs

So it is VPN time to russia for posting in Western nations?

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Re: VPNs

"So it is VPN time to russia for posting in Western nations?"

It's not clear, from what I read in the article, what happens to authors that *do* consent to the removal of their comments. If you say "yes", the comments are removed, then what?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: VPNs

> what happens to authors that *do* consent to the removal of their comments. If you say "yes", the comments are removed, then what?

Typical of the UK, to make laws as obtuse and complicated as possible, yet full of holes, so that they can be used for anything and against anyone. :-/

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Anonymous Coward

So, while we can...

Oi Cameron - you complete and utter snobnosedhoitytoitycuntybarstewardwankknobbingplank!

I'm sure this a widely held opinion that is bound to be the truth!

Is the El Reg libel?

On a serious note, how could this possibly work? For example, my account details here are somewhat light on the truth, the only relevant thing being an email address - so El Reg could pass my email address on to Cameron's cronies, but then what - are they allowed to go to Google? And there, the account is somewhat light on the truth too, so how far does it go??

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So, while we can...

ddrzl2m+4vubwc@sharklasers.com

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Re: So, while we can...

"On a serious note, how could this possibly work? For example, my account details here are somewhat light on the truth, the only relevant thing being an email address - so El Reg could pass my email address on to Cameron's cronies, but then what - are they allowed to go to Google? And there, the account is somewhat light on the truth too, so how far does it go??"

*cough* GCHQ *cough*

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Linux

Re: So, while we can...

"*cough* GCHQ *cough*" -- Yes, I am sure that finding the culprit behind a defamatory comment on the internet is well within the remit of the intelligence services. </sarc>

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Re: So, while we can...

The Reg emails you asking if it can take down your comments. You either reply and say yes, and they do, you reply and say no, and they request your contact details to pass onto the complainant, or you don't reply (either by choice or because you gave a fake/unused email) and they take the comments down anyway.

The only time they'll leave the comments up is if you reply in the affirmative, agreeing to take on the complaint yourself, and providing your actual identity and contact details. You never have to do that, and you're still entitled to your anonymity, it just means that your comments will get taken down.

Which all seems fairly reasonable to me.

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Re: So, while we can...

Except that a comment being posted by a random anonymous person will have a hard time convincing anyone - and so will likely not cause economic harm. Once that comment is suddenly identified with "well known person" or someone actual - Professor of X - the comment can now suddenly be believed.

So the revelation of the author can cause the comment to become libellous.

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Re: So, while we can...

""*cough* GCHQ *cough*" -- Yes, I am sure that finding the culprit behind a defamatory comment on the internet is well within the remit of the intelligence services. </sarc>"

Why do you think they were building a database of communications if it were not to punish Internet users? Terrorists and paedophiles? Come on...

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Re: So, while we can...

Ahhhh you seem to misunderstand. When you say things about rich people (that may or may not be true) you are obviously a terrorist, as you are in the UK it would be the NSA who would know about you and your email address courtesy of the you break my laws and I'll crap on your constitution act between these two great nations, home of democracy and the free world.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So, while we can...

@ Deano2099

'request your contact details to pass onto the complainant'

Yes, my contact details are:

393 London Road

Hadleigh

Benfleet

Essex

SS7 2BY

Tel 01702 555407

Feel free to ring any time

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Re: So, while we can...

@AC 0920

1. What you wrote is an opinion. It does not have to be a wise and considered opinion, only one which other people might hold. In my opinion such people are stupid.

2. Of course you can be traced if someone is willing to pay lawyers and their "dark side" contractors. It was neatly put by two old lags in a cheap American thriller I once read: "If they wanchyer, they gotchya".

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Holmes

@Eguro - Re: So, while we can...

Wrote :- "a comment being posted by a random anonymous person will have a hard time convincing anyone"

That's certainly not true. There have been many anonymous rumours (or revelation of facts) that have resulted in history-changing events. For example, the Labour Party back in the 20's lost serious numbers of votes (and maybe elections) because of rumours put about that they were financed by the Bolsheviks. King James II lost his throne in 1688 largely because of a rumour that his claimed newborn son (to his queen who was believed to be infertile), was in fact a maidservant's baby. The son was later nicknamed "Pretender" on this basis (later "The Old Pretender"), a serious handicap to his efforts to stage a counter-revolution.

On the contrary, if these rumours had identifiable sources they could probably have been discredited more easlily.

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Linux

Re: So, while we can...

Smooth move AC, smooth move!

393 London Road, SS7 2BY:

"Intim Eurostyle Sex Aids & Lingerie"

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MJI
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Don't forget the otehr two

Not fair just to pick on Cameron.

Millipede is feeling left out, as is Compo's friend

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Don't forget the otehr two

Nobody gives a shit about milliband.

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What the law says makes no difference

... as website owners will never, ever be in a position to spend the money needed to defend themselves against something a pseudo-anonymous poster wrote. Merely the threat of legal action and the amount of dosh needed just to contest the simple, early complaint will be enough to make most websites cave with nary a whimper. In fact, pretty much the situation we have now.

So we'll still be in a position where any company that feels it's been the victim of the truth a smear, only has to bang out a threatening letter and .... whoosh! the comment will be expunged so quickly that Prof. Hawking will have to be called in to rewrite the laws of Physics,

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Re: What the law says makes no difference

Pete 2,

That's not true. The whole point of this excercise is that now a comment can be stood up, so long as the commentard is willing to stand up and be counted. At which point the cost of defending their comment is moved to them.

Otherwise the website has to delete it or face the consequences, and quite right too. They can't be held responisble if they're willing to delete, which is a fair balance. It means you can safely allow comments, that there's even a safe method to leave the nasty ones up (which in reality will almost never happen) as if the commenter was up for a public fight, they'd have done it in a less roundabout manner.

So what's actually happened is that we've lowered the costs of moderation (risks of moderation failure) for websites, and protected people somewhat from anonymous alegations. After all, El Reg mostly have little more knowledge about their commentards than the victim of any nasty comment - so have no way of proving it's true.

On the other hand, if I've found the evidence of collusion between the Illuminati and say The International Cute Teddybear And Loveliness Corporation plc, and weirdly chosen to publish that in a comment on El Reg - then I can pass my details via El Reg to TICTALC plc and have my day in court.

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Re: What the law says makes no difference

> a comment can be stood up, so long as the commentard is willing to stand up and be counted

Yes, I appreciate that this law rearranges the responsibilities - much like rearranging deck chairs. But the basic injustice still stands. That mega-corp only has to send out a letter to effectively suppress any comments that they might / do / could decide were not wholly to their benefit. The problem is not so much who gets that letter posted into whichever orifice is open at the time (unless you're the hosting website), but that ALL IT TAKES to suppress a comment is the price of a stamp, as there is no practical or affordable alternative to folding.

No individual or website owner is in a financial position to defend their comment - even if they believe it is either relevant, not defamatory or can be backed up by evidence they actually possess. The cost of getting in to the game, let alone ante-ing up spells financial ruin for all but the most well-heeled. That's the reason the law makes no difference, because the law never has a chance to get involved. The law is still only for the rich.

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Re: What the law says makes no difference

"But the basic injustice still stands. That mega-corp only has to send out a letter to effectively suppress any comments that they might / do / could decide were not wholly to their benefit."

But what comments are "not wholly to their benefit"? As far as I can see, if I stand up and say megacorp are a wunch of bankers then 99% of megacorps will simply ignore it because they've heard of the Streisand effect. (For the 1% of megacorps who haven't heard of the Streisand effect, nothing is more educational than raining libel writs on Joe Public. Such corps will learn or perish.)

To actually incur the wrath of their lawyers, my statement has to look like it is making a specific allegation against them, like they ripped me off. In *that* case, their lawyers might want to consider that I might actually have documentary evidence proving that, in my case, they failed to "live up to their high standards of customer service". If I have my day in court and convince my peers that I have a case, it is then quite legal for *everyone* to say that megacorp are a wunch of proven bankers.

It's not all stacked on the side of the rich megacorps. Consider how Starbucks responded to the tax brouhaha by making some voluntary payments to the Inland Revenue. They had the law on their side and weren't even taken to court and they *still* felt they needed to give way for the sake of PR.

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Anonymous Coward

how...

will this affect websites that are not hosted in GB ?

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Re: how...

I suspect that if the maintainer exists under British jurisdiction he could be pursued.

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It may cut both ways.

For example. when commenters claim that XYZ company is polluting the planet, and causing thousands of deaths, they may get called upon to actually prove it for a change.

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Re: It may cut both ways.

Okay.

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Linux

I think we should have another 'internet silence' day where all websites either switch off or serve a black screen instead of the actual web page.

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IT Angle

So saying that

Thames Water gave many of the inhabitants of Oxford and surrounding villages cryptosporadium poisoning during the 1980's would have to be proved in court by Thames Water to be incorrect and in fact defamatory ?

About fucking time .................. IMHO what a bunch of irresponsible bastards the leading team at Thames Water must have been back then. And no, I am still NOT paying my fucking water bill, take me to court you conniving numpties.

So what happened to the mask icon, is it now considered defamatory to use it ?

ALF

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Re: So saying that

I draw your attention to "from start of 2014".

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Re: So saying that

The new law demands that substantial financial damage be caused.

With monopolies like water companies, the customer cannot switch to another supplier. Hence no damage caused, no damages payable. Unless the water company could show that people had been dissuaded from moving into their patch.

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What about small sites?

There are millions of small web sites out there run by one person. What happens when that person goes on holiday? Are they expected to find a way to check e-mail every 2 days to check if there is a takedown notice on comments on their web site? Seems like this law didn't think about the long tail.

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Re: What about small sites?

I'm a person with small websites. I moderate UGC for pretty much this reason (I didn't need a change in the law to know unmoderated UGC quickly gets out of control).

Not suggesting moderation should be mandatory, just that it's a good practice.

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Re: What about small sites?

Presumably that's why there's the bit in the Regulations that allows the court to treat a late action as being in time if it's in the interests of justice.

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What could possibly go wrong?

So can we now expect vigilant companies to have automated procedures for complaining about every post that they don't like? Or, more likely, hire an agency to do it on their behalf, regardless of whether they suffered any real harm?

It seems to me there's too little cost to the complainant in this system. In return for an email to a website operator they can now take down any content that bothers them or, alternatively, compile a list of contact details of everyone who utters a word of complaint.

Where's the penalty for making a bogus complaint in all this?

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