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European court says news website is liable for anonymous, defamatory comments from readers

By Jos
Jun 17, 2015
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  1. huge loss free speech europe human rights court sites liable user comments

    The European Court of Human rights in Strasbourg has set a dangerous legal precedent threatening freedom of speech and online publishing. In particular, a ruling issued this week says that Estonian news site Delfi may be held liable for anonymous and allegedly defamatory comments that readers post on its site.

    The case relates to a 2006 article published by Delfi about SLK, a local ferry company. Even though the article itself was considered balanced and fair, there were many offensive or threatening anonymous comments about the ferry operator and its owner. However, according to the court, allowing anonymous comments stems from a commercial decision on Delfi’s part -- attracting more people to voice their opinions -- and therefore it should be held liable.

    This despite the fact that the publisher’s commenting system allowed users to flag and automatically hide posts that they found offensive. According to reports, it also segregated anonymous comments from those of registered users, hiding them by default on its site, and the offensive comments had been removed following the initial complaint, prior to the lawsuit being filed.

    In the U.S., the Communications Decency Act (CDA) specifically says that websites aren’t liable for the comments and content that users post online. Website owners are merely treated as a service provider.

    According to EFF, under the E-commerce Directive in Europe (the region’s equivalent to DMCA takedowns), Delfi would normally be exempted from liability for user content unless it refuses to remove it after being informed of its illegality. But there’s a loophole in this directive as it provides a minimum level of intermediary liability without defining the limits of liability.

    The court points out in its ruling that it doesn’t apply to other sites like forums or social networks but it’s a worrying precedent that could prompt websites to enforce real-name registration policies, undermining anonymity, or eliminate posting altogether when they can’t afford to implement screening procedures.

    Permalink to story.

     
  2. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 1,319   +709

    Anonymity isn't a "commercial decision" but rather an ethical one. Is it ethical to force people to provide their real names online where any weirdo can stalk them? Of course not. Now consider that this is an online news outlet rather than the website of a TV channel or newspaper and the danger becomes all the more clear. The irony of a so-called Court of Human Rights rendering such a decision truly defies belief...and considering the Estonian connection, smacks of nationalistic bias at work in the EU (again).
     
  3. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Evangelist Posts: 3,541   +2,337

    Gonna call the shot...

    This marks the beginning of the end of reader commentary on news websites and will open the door to regulation of non-news sites as well.
     
  4. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 8,550   +2,894

    There goes the honest reviews of defective products. Good luck buying anything worth having. This is a small win for corporate.
     
    RebelFlag likes this.
  5. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,750   +1,105

    Why is this even a story?

    The entire population of Estonia is only slighter larger than my teeming 'metropolis' of Milwaukee. I'd bet most anyone reading this story couldn't even find them on the map.

    If you do find them on the map you'll see they're next to that beacon of free speech called 'Russia' where protesting gets you serious jail time. Point being, as far as freedom of speech violations go around the world, this doesn't even make the list.
     
    Hexic likes this.
  6. mailpup

    mailpup TS Special Forces Posts: 6,979   +362

    It's a story because if you read the first sentence, it sets a legal precedent for member states. It's not just the relatively small population of Estonia that should be concerned but all of the 47 member states (which, interestingly, also includes Russia, BTW).
     
  7. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,750   +1,105

    Maybe I'm missing it, but the first line of the story is
    That doesn't mean this case sets a dangerous legal precedent, it only means Jos (the author) says it sets a dangerous legal precedent.
    I dont' know how it works in Europe, but in the US, if you were in court and tried to use a court decision from another country as a precedent you'd be laughed out of the courtroom.

    I wonder though, how bad were those comments that were made? There's probably more to this story. I doubt this one website was the first to have some name-calling in the comments section.
     
  8. mailpup

    mailpup TS Special Forces Posts: 6,979   +362

    This isn't about the US. Who said anything about it applying to the US? It's about Europe and the members of the European Court of Human Rights. There are 47 of them.
     
    RebelFlag likes this.
  9. Bubbajim

    Bubbajim TS Addict Posts: 142   +57

     
    RebelFlag and MilwaukeeMike like this.
  10. Bubbajim

    Bubbajim TS Addict Posts: 142   +57

    Oops.. ballsed up those HTML tags again!
     
  11. Wow, Europe is way more screwed up than I had previously thought. (p.s. - Is this considered an inflammatory comment by an anonymous person? If so, GOOD! Deal with it Europe.)
     
  12. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 1,897   +940

    The ruling was made in France and applies to the EU, Estonia is just the location of the website
     

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