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Communication, defamation and liability of intermediaries

  • Jan Oster (a1)

Abstract

The legal framework concerning liability of communication intermediaries for defamation is under-conceptualised. The paper thus develops a holistic doctrinal approach to liability of speech intermediaries, such as Internet service providers (ISPs), booksellers and newspaper vendors, for defamation. It views intermediary liability for defamatory speech against the backdrop of communication theory and freedom of expression doctrine. If properly conceptualised, as suggested in this paper, the law of defamation can accommodate the cyberspace-specific legislation in Arts 12–15 of the e-commerce Directive and s 5 of the Defamation Act 2013, as well as the innocent dissemination defence in s 1 of the Defamation Act 1996, now to be read together with s 10 of the Defamation Act 2013. The paper establishes six tenets of intermediary liability for defamatory content. In particular, it argues that ‘publication’ is to be conceptualised as a merely factual requirement for defamation, whereas the defence of ‘innocent publication’, also known as ‘innocent dissemination’, is a fault-based concept. Communication intermediaries are thus to be considered ‘publishers’, even if they have a merely automatic role in the publication process, but they may avail themselves of the defence of ‘innocent publication’. This defence has to be applied in compliance with the human rights of the parties involved.

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Corresponding author

Dr Jan Oster, Assistant Professor for EU Law and Institutions, Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University, PO Box 9500, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands. Email: j.s.oster@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Footnotes

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*

I wish to thank Uta Kohl, Claire Schreyer, Katrina Simpson, the participants at the Cyberlaw Section at the SLS Conference in Edinburgh 2013 and the participants at a workshop on this paper held at King's College London for their invaluable comments. I am also grateful for the very helpful comments of the journal's reviewers. Any errors are my own.

Footnotes

References

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1. Tamiz v Google [2012] EWHC 449 (QB) [32].

2. Implemented in the UK through Regulations 17 et seq of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (SI 2002 No 2013).

3. Shannon, CeA mathematical theory of communication’ (1948) 27 Bell Syst Tech J 379423 , 623–656 (available at http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/ms/what/shannonday/shannon1948.pdf; Shannon, Ce and Weaver, W The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1949) passim ; Rogers, Em A History of Communication Study (New York: The Free Press, 1994) pp 434 et seq.

4. Shannon includes the message within the next element, the information source.

5. See Youssoupouff v MGM [1934] 50 TLR 581; Sim v Stretch [1936] 52 TLR 669; Berkoff v Burchill [1996] 4 All ER 1008.

6. Defamation Act 2013, s 1.

7. Pullman v W. Hill & Co. Ltd [1891] 1 QB 524, 527.

8. See Emmens v Pottle [1885] 16 QBD 354; Byrne v Dean [1937] 1 KB 818; Vizetelly v Mudie's Select Library Ltd [1900] 2 QB 170, 175; Weldon v ‘The Times’ Book Co. Ltd [1911] 28 TLR 143.

9. McLuhan, M Understanding Media (1964; London: Routlege edn, 2001) pp 7 et seq.

10. 47 USC § 230.

11. See Zeran v America Online (AOL), Inc, 129 F3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997); Blumenthal v Drudge 992 F. Supp. 44, 49–53 (D.D.C. 1998); Barnes v Yahoo! Inc, 570 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2009).

12. Article 51(1) EUChFR provides the rule for the applicability of the Charter.

13. Total immunities for speech intermediaries are exceptional (see eg Postal Services Act 2000, s 90).

14. On the ‘indirect horizontal effect’ of human rights, see Drzemczewski, AThe European Human Rights Convention and relations between private parties’ (1979) 2 Neth Int'l L Rev 168 ; Barak, AConstitutional human rights and private Law’ in Friedmann, D and Barak-Erez, D (eds) Human Rights in Private Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2001) p 13 ; Kay, SThe European Convention on Human Rights and the control of private law’ (2005) EHRLR 466, 475 et seq.

15. See eg ECtHR Sunday Times v United Kingdom (No 1) [1979] App no 6538/74 [65]; Observer and Guardian v United Kingdom [1991] App no 13585/88 [59]; CJEU, Case C-314/12 [2014] UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH [47].

16. ECtHR Axel Springer AG v Germany [2012] App no 39954/08 [83]; Delfi AS v Estonia [2013] App no 64569/09 [80]; Lavric v Romania [2014] App no 22231/05 [31].

17. See CJEU, Case C-314/12 [2014] UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH [47]. The ECHR protects only single aspects of businesses, such as property under Art 1 First Protocol ECHR or business premises as ‘home’ under Art 8(1) ECHR.

18. Compare Case C-314/12 [2014] UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH; Case C-131/12 [2014] Google Spain.

19. See ECtHR Öztürk v Turkey [1999] App no 22479/93 [49].

20. On honest opinion: Flood v Times Newspapers [2012] UKSC 12, Defamation Act 2013, s 3; on publication on a matter of public interest: Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd [1999] 3 All ER 961, Defamation Act 2013, s 4; on parliamentary privilege: Art 9 Bill of Rights 1689 and Art 8 of the 7th Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union.

21. Dicey, Av An Introduction to the Study of Law of the Constitution (London: Macmillan, 3rd edn, 1889) p 226 ; Mitchell, P The Making of the Modern Law of Defamation (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2005) p 123 ; Horsey, K and Rackley, E Tort Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn, 2013) p 426 ; Schwartz, Ve, Kelly, K and Partlett, Df Prosser, Wade and Schwartz's Torts (New York: Foundation Press, 12th edn, 2010) p 894.

22. Pullman v Hill & Co [1891] 1 QB 524, 527; Marchant v Ford [1936] 2 All ER 1510; Godfrey v Demon Internet Ltd [1999] EWHC QB 244 [33]; Collins, M The Law of Defamation and the Internet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn, 2010) para 6.01; Mitchell, above n 21, p 124.

23. Byrne v Dean [1937] 1 KB 818, 837.

24. US courts expressly require that the defendant must have had ‘a direct hand’ in the publication; see Cubby v CompuServe [1991] 776 F. Supp. 135 (SDNY 1991); Lunney v Prodigy Services Co [1999] 701 NYS 2d 684, 686.

25. See Blackstone, W Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1768) pp 296297 ; Goudkamp, J Tort Law Defences (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2013) pp 67.

26. Godfrey v Demon Internet Ltd [1999] EWHC QB 244 [26].

27. Lunney v Prodigy Services Co [1999] 701 NYS 2d 684.

28. Godfrey v Demon Internet Ltd [1999] EWHC QB 244 [49].

29. Bunt v Tilley [2006] EWHC 407 (QB) [36]; confirmed in Tamiz v Google [2012] EWHC 449 (QB) [39]; Tamiz v Google [2013] EWCA Civ 68 [26].

30. Emmens v Pottle (1885) 16 QBD 354, 357–358.

31. McLeod v St. Aubyn [1899] AC 549, 562.

32. McLeod v St. Aubyn [1899] AC 549, 562.

33. [1900] 2 QB 170.

34. Vizetelly v Mudie's Select Library Ltd [1900] 2 QB 170, 175–177.

35. See Mitchell, above n 21, pp 101–113.

36. Ibbetson, Dj A Historical Introduction to the Law of Obligations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) p 185 n 108.

37. Jones v E Hulton [1910] AC 20, 23; Byrne v Deane [1937] 1 KB 818, 837; as opposed to, for example, The Capital and Counties Bank Ltd v Henty & Sons [1882] 7 App Cas 741, 772.

38. Mitchell, above n 21, p 114.

39. In contrast to the US; see New York Times v Sullivan 376 US 254 (1964); Gertz v Robert Welsh Inc 418 US 323 (1974).

40. See Defamation Act 2013, ss 3(5), 4(2)(b).

41. See section 4.

42. Bunt v Tilley [2006] EWHC 407 (QB) [36]; confirmed in Tamiz v Google [2012] EWHC 449 (QB) [39]; Tamiz v Google [2013] EWCA Civ 68 [26].

43. The authority for this rule is Byrne v Deane [1937] 1 KB 818. See Davison v Habeeb and Others [2011] EWHC 3031 (QB) [47]; Tamiz v Google [2013] EWCA Civ 68 [27]; Sadiq v Baycorp (NZ) Ltd [2008] CIV 2007-404-6421 [48].

44. Tamiz v Google [2012] EWHC 449 (QB) [38].

45. See Bromage v Prosser [1825] 4 B & C 247; Chubb v Flannagan [1834] 6 Car & P 431; Emmens v Pottle [1885] 16 QBD 354.

46. Compare Emmens v Pottle [1885] 16 QBD 354; Vizetelly v Mudie's Select Library Ltd [1900] 2 QB 170; Collins, above n 22, para 17.01.

47. McEvedy, VDefamation and intermediaries: Isp defences’ (2013) 19 Computer & Telecomm L Rev 108.

48. See Mitchell, above n 21, p 38; McNamara, L Reputation and Defamation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) p 111 ; Baker, R Defamation Law and Social Attitudes (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2011) p 34.

49. See eg The Law Society and Others v Kordowski [2011] EWHC 3182 (QB); German Federal Court of Justice, Case Az.: I ZR 166/07 [2009] www.chefkoch.de.

50. See Cour de Cassation, Case no 11-20358 [2013] SNEP; German Federal Court of Justice, Case no VI ZR 269/12 [2013] Google.

51. Thus, I respectfully disagree with Metropolitan International Schools Ltd v Designtechnica Corp [2009] EWHC 1765 (QB) [51] and Collins, above n 22, para 6.18.

52. Case C-131/12 [2014] Google Spain [35].

53. Ibid, at [36–37].

54. Ibid, at [41]; see Art 2(d) of Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (OJ 1995 L 281, p 31).

55. See Case C-131/12 [2014] Google Spain [70].

56. Yet the defence may be defeated according to s 5(3); see infra (b).

57. Delfi AS v Estonia [2013] App no 64569/09.

58. See eg G Guillemin ‘Court strikes serious blow to free speech online’, available at http://inforrm.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/case-law-strasbourg-delfi-as-v-estonia-court-strikes-serious-blow-to-free-speech-online-gabrielle-guillemin (accessed 25 September 2014).

59. Delfi AS v Estonia [2013] App no 64569/09 [25].

60. Ibid, at [86].

61. Ibid, at [92]; see also CJEU, Case C-131/12 [2014] Google Spain [36].

62. Kaschke v Gray [2010] EWHC 690 (QB) [86].

63. See Thompson v Australian Capital TV Ltd [1996] HCA 38; Oriental Press Group Ltd & Others v Fevaworks Solutions Ltd & Others [2013] HKCFA 47 [57].

64. See Art 31 Universal Service Directive 2002/22/EC.

65. Compare Oriental Press Group Ltd & Others v F evaworks Solutions Ltd & Others [2013] HKCFA 47 [89].

66. Compare CJEU, Case C-466/12 [2014] Svensson et al. v Retriever Sverige AB [24], concerning the concept of ‘communication to the public’ within the meaning of Art 3(1) of the Copyright Directive 2001/29.

67. CJEU, Case C-466/12 [2014] Svensson et al. v Retriever Sverige AB [24]; by contrast, see Crookes v Newton [2011] SCC 47 3 SCR 269; McGrath v Dawkins [2012] EWHC B3 (QB) [26].

68. CJEU, Case C-466/12 [2014] Svensson et al. v Retriever Sverige AB [25].

69. Print Zeitungsverlag GmbH v Austria [2013] App no 26547/07.

70. Ibid, at [40–41].

71. Milmo, P et al (eds) Gatley on Libel and Slander (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 11th edn, 2008) para 6.29.

72. Bunt v Tilley [2006] EWHC 407 (QB) [24].

73. The act of temporarily storing information by internet intermediaries (Arts 12(2) and 13 of the e-commerce Directive) does not constitute a publication and therefore does not give rise to an action in defamation.

74. According to subsection 4, it is possible for a claimant to ‘identify’ a person only if the claimant has sufficient information to bring proceedings against the person.

75. As provided in subsection 5. See The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013.

76. According to the Explanatory Notes to the Defamation Act 2013, malice might arise where, for example, the website operator had colluded with the poster.

77. Mullis, A and Scott, ATilting at windmills: the Defamation Act 2013’ (2014) 77 MLR 87, 100.

78. Compare ECtHR Mosley v United Kingdom [2011] App no 48009/08 [111]; Von Hannover v Germany (No 2) [2012] App nos 40660/08 and 60641/08 [106].

79. Established in Norwich Pharmacal v Customs & Excise Commissioners [1974] AC 133, 175.

80. ‘Author’, ‘editor’ and ‘publisher’ have the same meaning as in s 1 of the Defamation Act 1996 (Defamation Act 2013, s 10(2)).

81. See Mullis and Scott, above n 77, at 101.

82. ‘Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act’, 124 STAT. 2380 PUBLIC LAW 111–223.

83. Scott Mullis and, above n 77, at 101.

84. Ibid.

85. Sophocles Antigone lines 275–276.

86. Edwards, LThe fall and rise of intermediary liability online’ in Edwards, L and Waelde, C (eds) Law and the Internet (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 3rd edn, 2009) 47, 74; Ahlert, C, Marsden, C and Yung, CHow “liberty” disappeared from cyberspace: the mystery shopper tests internet content self-regulation’ (2004) 2 (available at http://www.rootsecure.net/content/downloads/pdf/liberty_disappeared_from_cyberspace.pdf; accessed 25 September 2014).

87. The Court of Justice of the EU provided guidance on the interpretation of Art 15 of the e-commerce Directive in Case C-70/10 [2011] Scarlet Extended and Case C-360/10 [2012] SABAM v Netlog.

88. Goldsmith v Sperrings Ltd [1977] 1 WLR 478, 487; Milmo et al, above n 71, para 6.27; Robertson, G and Nicol, A Media Law (London: Penguin Books, 5th edn, 2007) para 3-040.

89. Law Commission ‘Defamation and the Internet’ (2002) para 2.65.

90. Compare US Supreme Court Abrams v United States 250 US 616, 630 (1919) (Brandeis J, concurring); Gertz v Robert Welch Inc 418 US 323, 339-40 (1974); IACtHR Ivcher-Bronstein v Peru [2001] Case 11.762 [151]; Human Rights Committee, General Comment no 34, para 14.

91. Law Commission, above n 89, para 2.22.

92. McEvedy, above n 47, p 109.

93. Law Commission, above n 89, para 2.65.

94. Compare ECtHR Delfi AS v Estonia [2013] App no 64569/09 [87].

* I wish to thank Uta Kohl, Claire Schreyer, Katrina Simpson, the participants at the Cyberlaw Section at the SLS Conference in Edinburgh 2013 and the participants at a workshop on this paper held at King's College London for their invaluable comments. I am also grateful for the very helpful comments of the journal's reviewers. Any errors are my own.

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