Project Management

Avoiding defamation issues

Allowing commenting on your website, whether from social media or on-the-page comments, can leave you open to potential legal issues.

What are the implications of the UK Web Defamation Act for website owners?

Allowing commenting on your website, whether from social media or on-the-page comments, can be rather fraught with danger. Not only is it important that you ensure comments are moderated for decency (swear words etc.), but you now have responsibilities to ensure that comments are not defamatory to anybody else.

New regulations have just been introduced which outline what you need to do in relation to comments from third parties on your website.

Over to our legal eagles for some (rather dry, but useful) legal speak:

"These new rules, which are implemented by the Defamation Act of 2013, as supplemented by The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013, set down a two day deadline for a website operator to notify the relevant commenter if a defamation complaint has been received. This deadline must be adhered to or the website operator will forfeit the possible available defenses.

"The website operator is not permitted to identify the complainant if said complainant has requested anonymity.

"Once the individual who has made the allegedly defamatory comment has been notified, they in turn have five days to provide a response, in writing, agreeing to the removal of their comment. If there is no response within five days following the notification, the website operator is obliged to delete the comment.

"If the author of the alleged defamatory comment does not agree to the removal of their material from the website, they must provide the website operator with their full name and address and state whether or not they will permit the forwarding of these details to the complainant. Upon receipt of such a reply of non-consent of removal of comments, the website operator has 48 hours to inform the complainant, and must disclose the contents of the response.

"In cases where the comment author responds but does not provide their name and address within a two-day period of receiving notification, the website operator is compelled to delete the comment within two days of receiving the response.

"If the website operator is unable to contact the individual who made the alleged defamatory comment on their site for any reason, they must delete the relevant comments within two days of receiving the complaint.

"Of course, the author of the allegedly defamatory comments could respond to the operator, but provide false information about their identity and location. The new rules guard against this. In such instances, if the website operator is of the view that the information supplied by the commenter is "obviously false", they must go ahead and remove the comments with 48 hours of receipt of a response from the commentator.

"If the author of the allegedly defamatory comments persists in posting the same comments, or ones that are strikingly similar, after they have twice been taken off the site, publishers have to remove the new comments within 48 hours of further complaints, without going through the original process of notification."

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