New law to protect bloggers from defamatory comments on their sites

The government has just tabled draft regulations under the new Defamation Act to protect English and Welsh bloggers from being sued if people put up unwanted libellous comments on their websites.
I am indebted to Rupert Jones,a Birmingham barrister who specialises, among other things, in media law for drawing my attention to draft regulations which have been tabled by the Ministry of Justice. The regulations have to be debated by a committee of MPs and peers before becoming law. As far as I can see these regulations do not apply to Scottish or Northern Ireland websites.
From my reading as a journalist it allows bloggers 48 hours or two working days after a complaint has been received to contact the person who put up the comment and make a decision whether to take down the comment. It also allows – if both sides agree – for the person complaining about the comment to be put in touch with person who posted it.
For WordPress users like myself this is particularly good news. Under present arrangements I can moderate comments from new people who want to debate issues. But I cannot stop existing commentators putting up a new comment which is automatically published at the same time as I am alerted by WordPress.
Luckily all people commenting have to leave an email address – even if they are not using their real name – where they can be contacted.
The regulations also allow a ” get out” clause for websites carrying comments from people who cannot be traced – to remove the comment within 48 hours as a strong defence against anybody suing them for carrying an anonymous comment. There is also a lot of leeway for the courts to extend the 48 hour period to cover disputes.
All this is welcome news given my last report about the mad decision of the European Court of Human Rights to allow people to sue websites for comments from anonymous people even after they had taken them down.
Luckily I am told Britain does not have to follow the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights – unlike – and this has confused some people – the European Court of Justice, which is an EU institution.
These new rules – if followed by a website – will make it much more difficult for an intransigent complainer to win any libel action in the UK. And if they want to take it to the European Court of Human Rights they will have to go through the whole British justice system which will cost them a fortune.
So there is some good news to protect bloggers from comments they have never made.

13 thoughts on “New law to protect bloggers from defamatory comments on their sites

  1. Pingback: New law to protect bloggers from defamatory comments on their sites: From David Hencke’s Blog | Journalism@Brunel

  2. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Good news on the threat that bloggers will be liable to libel actions if defamatory comments are put up on their sites – the government has drafted regulations to protect us.
    Mr Hencke’s assertion that WordPress won’t stop existing commenters from putting up new comments is only partially right. This function can be turned off, allowing the site owner to moderate the lot. I’ve done it – but I’ve forgotten how. Have a look at your dashboard, David!

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  3. “All this is welcome news given my last report about the mad decision of the European Court of Human Rights to allow people to sue websites for comments from anonymous people even after they had taken them down.
    Luckily I am told Britain does not have to follow the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights”

    Both of these points are slightly off; the court did not create a general right to sue for libelous comments, but merely commented that Estonian law in this area did not violate the convention.

    Second, we are bound to follow the courts ruling- but that really doesn’t matter in this case, because…. well, see above.

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  4. Pingback: New year and a new defence for bloggers over defamatory comments | David Hencke

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