The protection of free speech on the internet is one of the longest and strongest campaigns in cyber history and this month a potential new threat was revealed – yet the cyber-world seems slow to react.
Last Week the UK Government revealed the draft Defamation Bill following a comprehensive review of libel law (Defamation being the generic term for libel (written) and slander (spoken) law). Whilst this has seen newspaper editors take notice, the relatively few posts in cyberspace suggests a worrying ignorance or complacency from those who publish online as to what they may or may not be able to say in the internet world in the future.
Defamation law in England and Wales is renowned as being amongst the toughest in the world, designed to stop people making harmful, untruthful statements about others, but also ensuring a fairly tight grip on the concept of free speech. Evolved over years, the current law needs to be overhauled as its terminology and concepts doesn’t transfer well to online publising or in fact anything to do with the modern Web 2.0 world.
Also this month the English courts decided their first Twitter libel case with damages of £3,000 and costs of around £50,000 imposed on the losing defendant despite the fact he had tweeted a second tweet after the first ‘defamatory’ tweet acknowledging his first tweet was factually incorrect. With another 15 plus libel cases already in the courts system, the law of defamation is set to impact on more and more of our lives.
The new bill has been put out for public consumption and consultation. The government is inviting comments and views in general about the bill and how the law should work and it appears that they also have in mind that they need more input from the online world. Deputy Prime Minister was recently quoted as saying that they understand the bill may need to go further and that the current consultation period is “calling for views on changing the law to better protect “secondary publishers”, like discussion forums and internet service providers. They must not be unfairly targeted for content over which they have no control.”