Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC today called for more rigorous editorial scrutiny for websites reporting court cases, for they are subject to the same contempt laws as their printed counterparts.
Mr Grieve’s comments during the Kalisher Lecture to the Criminal Bar Association at the Old Bailey were the latest development in a week, which has given us much reason to consider the legal status of the Internet.

Yesterday Ryan Air won a Nominet domain name tribunal against the website ‘I hate Ryanair’.
Despite content which Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said was vitriolic and highly disparaging, ‘I hate Ryanair’ only lost the case because the website made a commercial profit.
Indeed one of the Nominet experts who worked on the case said:

“Criticism websites are essential in a democratic society”

This view was not shared by the high court when they reached a verdict in the case against website ‘Solicitors from Hell’.
On October 5, Mr Justice Tugendhat issued an interim injunction against the site owner Rick Kordowski.
As with ‘I hate Ryanair’ this case relates to comments users have added to a website.
However in this case (I think crucially) the comments are directed at professional individuals rather than a company.
And, although he himself wasn’t generating the content I don’t think Kordowski did himself many favours.
Taking on lawyers in the first place is fairly unwise.
To make matters worse, following an initial complaint he moved the offending comment to a specific section of his website ensuring it got maximum hits.

One man’s ill-thought-out actions aside, this issue highlights the responsibilities a website owner has over the content that appears on their site.
People often think of the internet as somewhere where anything goes, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Rather, the potential audience that can be reached using the internet increases the responsibility you have for your content.
And even if you yourself aren’t producing the material, if you are putting it into public domain then you are as responsible as any traditional publisher is for their content.

And the potential consequences of ignoring these responsibilities?
Well it makes me shiver for all the times that I may have unthinkingly libelled people in the past.
So, if as critics are saying the future of print is online then cases like these will continue more and more common.
Which means that even the lowliest blogger had best start either monitoring their content or preparing themselves a damn good legal team.

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