We moderate comments, you do us for libel!

9 April 2010

Exactly the kind of person who leaves comments on articles, last week

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.

TOPICS:   Technology   Consumer Advice

4 comments

  • Steve B.
    Mof Gimmers strings columns of frankfurters together, places soldering wire in the top of each one, then straps them to his legs claiming "this isn't a fake bomb - I'm just a bit chilly". And that's before he heads off to his favourite thicket in front of his local pre-teen grooming ground to polish his chuff-piece off in the bushes. Once he's done, he part limps, part strides his way to a nearby racially diverse congregation of free-speech activists to bark his far right two-penn'orth at the assembled masses and show them all his sausage string. If you dare to correct the following spelling mistake - you're getting no protection from my comments by the courts, you malingering, over-sexed halfwit. Here you go: "Your fucked". Correct it at your absolute peril.
  • Whiningoldgit
    I would like to complain about Steve Blag's post above. Please edit it accordingly.
  • wonky h.
    I want to complain about Whiningoldgit's complaint. I find Steve Blag's post perfectly alright.
  • JasminehatesNewBarnet
    Steve Blag is a genius. However I want to warn you all of his n'er do well evil twin brother rival, Steve Bag, who writes really unfunny dribble about womens handbags from Primark. Only the reduced ones.

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