We moderate comments, you do us for libel!
The comments section on a website or blog is always a free-for-all. However, a blog owner who fixes the spelling or grammar in users' posts could lose the protection of the High Court.
A case that involved a blog post on Labourhome.org saw a claim that local political activist Johanna Kaschke was arrested on suspicion of being a member of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. Kaschke sued the blog for libel, and the site operator, Alex Hilton claimed in his defence that, though he ran the site, he did not edit or vet the articles and basically, should be treated like an ISP.
Basically, Hilton said that he didn't read every blog post and was only storing the information. The Court said that if this was the case he would probably be entitled to an exemption from liability. However, the judge found that Hilton "exercised some editorial control on parts of the website and in particular on the homepage" and that, merely by fixing a spelling in a post, he could wave goodbye to the protection he wanted.
Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that the ruling serves as a reminder of the risks in moderating user-generated content.
"Many sites apply some form of moderation to all user contributions for reasons of quality control, whether that's before or after publication. This ruling just shows how dangerous that is and how narrow the safe harbour may be," he said. "Even an attempt to filter for profanities or comment spam, if done manually, involves a risk for the publisher. If you want to be sure that you're not liable for what your users say, the judge is basically saying you need to ignore user contributions completely until you get a complaint.
"That's not a new principle," said Robertson, "but it's a warning to site owners about how to interpret it. Some owners may think they have less responsibility for user comments than they really do, and they may wrongly assume that a post-moderation policy is completely safe."
If you want to read more on this, with all the legal stuff and words from a judge in it, click here.