Friday, November 19, 2010

Bloggers and Libel Law - Sense About Science

Sense about Science have released a guide to the libel laws written for bloggers and online journalists, titled
"So you’ve had a threatening letter. What can you do?”
You can download it for free from the Sense about Science website, here (.pdf).

The background to the document is copied below from the Sense about Science website:
This guide was prepared following Sense About Science’s recent survey of the impact of the libel laws on online discussion.

To coincide with the guide’s publication, Sense About Science is making available a summary of the effects of the English libel laws on bloggers, drawn from cases that have come to attention since the start of the Libel Reform Campaign and from the recent survey of bloggers. The summary identifies the particular ways in which online forums are affected by the current laws, notably:

* the individual and non-professional character of much online writing, and therefore the more pronounced inequality of arms, particularly where people are writing about companies, institutions and products;
* related to the above, the relative lack of familiarity with libel law and access to advice about handling complaints;
* the liability of ISPs, leading to material being removed without consultation with authors;
* and the vulnerability to legal action arising from the international availability of Internet material, and it being possible to republish old material by downloading it.

Reform of English libel law has been promised, and if campaigners are successful, then changes that will give better defences to online publishers and writers may come into force in 2012.

This leaflet is certainly not a substitute for legal advice, but it does provide information which other bloggers and writers who have experienced libel threats say they wished they had known at the outset.

The publication of the guide comes on the day that Yahoo!, AOL UK, Mumsnet and the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) are writing to the Prime Minister calling for urgent reform of our libel laws, and in the week where the summary of the effects of libel law on bloggers has been shared with the Ministry of Justice.

This is in conjunction with the blogpost earlier this month
"Mass Blog for Libel Reform"
which was headed up by Simon Singh, who was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for an article he wrote in the Guardian on the lack of evidence for Chiropractic. After much legal wrangling, the BCA eventually withdrew their claim but face legal bills of upwards of £250,000.

So, well done Sense about Science for producing this guide (and all the other organisations involved) - I hope I never have to read it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for linking us to this excellent document. I am a Canadian blogger who received a very intimidating letter (FedEx'd overnight from the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom (seriously!) about an article I'd published online on THE ETHICAL NAG: MARKETING ETHICS FOR THE EASILY SWAYED. Apparently, their client, a celebrity doctor with a very profitable online retail sales business, did not like being mentioned (among several others) in my article called "When Doctors Go Retail: Is Selling Products Okay?" They gave me one week to remove the offending bits from my blog before they would proceed with "legal interdiction" against me.

    Although my initial reaction was: "Oh yeah? Bring it on, baby!" this bravado quickly turned to a state of really quite pathetic anxiety as I realized that while the doc in question and his pals at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, have very deep pockets, I have no pockets by comparison. I caved in, and as the Sense About Science document recommends, I removed all references to the Good Doctor, but did insert an explanation of my suddenly altered essay. More at: