Liability for Comments Posted by Online Readers

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Posted on: 
14 Jan 2014

MLDI has led a coalition of 69 news organisations in urging the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights to formally review a judgment by one of the court’s lower chambers in a case concerning the extent to which news websites can be held liable for comments left by users.

In the case of Delfi v. Estonia, the First Section of the Court held that one of Estonia’s main news websites, Delfi, was liable for defamatory comments from its users despite the fact that Delfi had taken down the comments as soon as they had been notified of them.

This undermines established standards under other legal systems, including other EU law, and may result in websites closing down comments sections of their websites or proactively removing any comments they think might be offensive. Either option would limit free speech online and prevent users from voicing their concerns on topical news items (in the Estonian case, the comments concerned a ferry company that had broken up winter roads over the ice).   

Lawyers for Delfi have formally requested that the judgment be referred to the Court’s Grand Chamber. MLDI has written to the Court in support of the request, as part of a coalition including Google, Forbes, News Corp., Thomson Reuters, the New York Times, Bloomberg News, Guardian News and Media, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Conde Nast, the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the European Publishers Council, Greenpeace, the Center for Democracy and Technology, ARTICLE 19 and national media outlets and journalists associations from across Europe.

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