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March 23, 2006

Libel Law and Blogs

So, hot on the heels of the judgement stating that comments in a chatroom can indeed be libel I am contacted to ask that I pull down, or at least amend, one of my old posts.

For, yes, Neil Clark is, as he told me, going ahead with his libel suit against Oliver Kamm.

Could this actually be a first? One blogger suing another? I think there have been one or two cases in the US over such things but not for libel, or defamation, given the much stronger First Amendment rights over there (and also that you have to show actual malice towards a public figure.)

There’s an old saw in the UK that a journalist should never sue for libel.  Not quite sure why, perhaps becaase they get sued so often themselves. As I mentioned earlier, any contact with the libel system is a crap shoot at the very best.

I have no idea what’s going to happen from here on in. If anyone knows how to get hold of a copy of the court papers, once they’re filed, please do let me know. Depending upon what does actually happen, it might well chill the rambunctiousness of the blogosphere, eh?

It’s worth noting that this does not just apply to bloggers in the UK. As I’ve said before, both here and here, all bloggers everywhere are subject to UK libel laws. For the jurisdiction depends on where a piece is read, not where it is written or hosted. You may write something in Canada, be hosted in the US and talk about someone based in Dubai. But if that piece is read in England and that person in Dubai has a reputation in England damaged by your post, then you can be sued in the English courts.

Rather chilling really.

lenn,

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Comments

why would you have to remove one of your posts because Neil Clark is suing Oliver Kamm? Who has asked for the amendments and what have they asked for? I am no more than an educated layman, but it strikes me as odd that one of the parties to a lawsuit is asking for something which might be material evidence in that lawsuit to be changed.

(hang on a second ... I seem to remember that in that thread I called Clark an "unsavoury weirdo" and accused Kamm of "writing like a fat goose trying to fart out a dictionary". If there is any danger of me being dragged into this, delete away.)

Tim adds: The specific piece taken down was the quote from Ollie’s blog. Which (allegedly) contains the libel. Haven’t changed anything else yet as that’s all Clark has asked for.

Posted by: dsquared | Mar 23, 2006 10:51:29 AM

The reason posts are removed is to avoid aggravating (or some such legal phrase) the libel.

James

Posted by: james C | Mar 23, 2006 2:54:00 PM

Given what Clark's been happy to post about Kamm on his own blog (both in his own words and cut-and-paste copies of others' anti-Kamm rants), it will be very interesting indeed to see how this pans out.

My guess is that if it gets anywhere near a court, the judge will spend most of the time trying to keep a straight face. And I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the jury room!

Posted by: Michael | Mar 23, 2006 9:25:46 PM

>There’s an old saw in the UK that a journalist should never sue for libel. Not quite sure why, perhaps becaase they get sued so often themselves.

One reason is because they're likely to have slagged a lot of people off, so they're asking for trouble if they start suing.

Hmm. Couldn't be that this is good advice for Clark, could it? I mean, he's not exactly sweetness and light about other people, is he?

I think he wants the publicity, even if that involves the risk of becoming a laughing stock (not much of a risk, though, as he's already become a laughing stock).

Posted by: Tich | Mar 24, 2006 8:38:26 AM

One reason is because they're likely to have slagged a lot of people off, so they're asking for trouble if they start suing.

This applies just as much to politicians, and the Rupert Allason case is a prime example. He ill-advisedly sued Have I Got News For You for calling him "a conniving little shit" - and, notoriously, lost.

This isn't especially scientific, but Google returns 9,560 pages containing the name 'Rupert Allason'. Of these, 273 contain the phrase 'conniving little shit'. I make that 2.8%, though the true percentage is almost certainly much higher once you factor out all the pages that refer to a different Rupert Allason, or which only mention him in passing (by acknowledging his existence as an MP, mentioning one of his books, etc.) And even 2.8% is more than one in fifty.

Posted by: Michael | Mar 24, 2006 10:20:45 AM

The Ilkley Rocks blog has also been threatened with libel suits, for helping to campaign against a CCTV surveillance camera scheme in Yorkshire.

Apparently some Parish Councillor or other is exerting her malign influence.

Posted by: Watching Them, Watching Us | Mar 25, 2006 5:11:46 PM

yup, though not even a parish councillor, just one of the local residents who led (and lost) the pro-CCTV campaign in our fair 'burg. Admittedly, there were some out of order comments on the blog, but the mud was flying thick and fast in both directions at the time.

Posted by: Bertie | Mar 25, 2006 6:13:48 PM

D^2: "I seem to remember that in that thread I called Clark an "unsavoury weirdo" and accused Kamm of "writing like a fat goose trying to fart out a dictionary"."

It's OK, truth is (~) an absolute defence under UK libel law.

Posted by: john b | Mar 28, 2006 8:16:06 PM