Understanding online defamation

The law of defamation is both complex and archaic. A party is liable for defamation when it publishes a defamatory statement. However, there is a legal distinction between primary and secondary publishers, the difference being that secondary publishers (those who repeat or allow information to be repeated) can defend a defamatory statement by proving they could not reasonably know the statement was not true.

When claiming for online defamation, the claimant is likely to bring the action against the entity which operates the website on which the statement was published. This is simple enough when the statement is published by that entity, but becomes complicated when the information is posted by users. The controlling entity has a convenient defence available: it can claim it was unaware of the online defamation. However, if the defamed person asks the entity to remove the statement it can no longer claim ignorance.

When pursuing online defamation the defamed may also serve a claim against the person who posted the statement rather than the website. Because of the anonymous nature of the internet when the defamed wishes to bring such a claim the website may be ordered to reveal information regarding its members.

If you have been the victim of online defamation, and would like to bring a claim, it is vital to seek the advice of a specialist solicitor. The law regarding defamation online is still young and so changes are frequent.

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