Web forces libel law update

The government is looking for feedback on how libel laws should be updated to be more inclusive of web publishing.

legal

Libel laws will be updated to bring them in line with the internet era.

The Ministry of Justice today kicked off a consultation on defamation and how the internet has changed the way publishing works. The current laws date from as far back as the 1840s which the MoJ claims is "long before the internet arrived."

For example, defamation law requires claims be made within a year of publishing, which might make sense for a newspaper where the copies will for the most part disappear, but is problematic with the web storing content for long into the future.

In addition, the government wants to look at what online publishing actually means - is it "republished" every time the page loads? Such a definition could affect the multiple publication aspect of defamation law, with each publication of the text in question potentially leading opening up a new libel claim.

"Existing defamation law needs to be updated so it is fit for the modern age, and it is important we listen to views on the best way to achieve this," said Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw, in a statement.

"Freedom to hold and express opinions is a right that is vital to democracy, as is respect for the rights and freedoms of others," he added. "How these principles are balanced in the fast-changing internet age is a fascinating debate."

The consultation is open until 16 December, with more details available here.

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