Internet Libel and Reader Comments

December 9, 2009

It is scarcely a ground-breaking ruling but, especially in light of a string of judgments causing tears among newspaper publishers, the recent ruling of Mr Justice Eady in Karim v Newsquest Media Group Ltd [2009] EWHC 3205 (QB) will bring some comfort to publishers.

The claim for libel was dismissed on the defendant’s application for summary judgment on a number of grounds. But the most interesting aspect of the case was the alacrity with which it was accepted that Newsquest had protection by virtue of reg 19 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 in respect of what it appears were abusive comments added to the site. Given that the report to which comments were added concerned the claimant being struck off for using client money to supplement his income, thus enabling him to lead a lavish lifestyle featuring a Rolex, loose women and drink (which, coincidentally, are the first three items on the web site editor’s Xmas list), it was scarcely surprising that some abusive comments were added. (Indeed the court expressed surprise that a number of supportive comments were added.) But the claimant did not have actual knowledge of unlawful activity or information until it was pointed out by the claimant and the material was taken down as soon as the nature of the complaint reached the defendant.