Online media need protection from liability for user comments

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Posted on: 
10 Jun 2014

The Media Legal Defence Initiative has filed a brief with the European Court of Human Rights asking it to respect the principle that online media should not have to monitor the thousands of comments left on their sites by readers every day.

In an intervention in the much-debated case of Delfi v. Estonia, which was joined by 23 media organisations from around the world, MLDI asked the European Court to consider legal regimes under EU and US law, which exempt media from having to monitor their sites for offensive comments, and to take into account the sophisticated self-regulatory practices developed by the media to moderate such comments.

The case was referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court after an earlier ruling by the Court’s First Section in October 2013, which had held that Estonian news website Delfi was liable for defamatory comments from its users despite the fact that it had taken down the comments as soon as they had been notified of them. Delfi asked for this judgment to be referred to the Grand Chamber for a rehearing and MLDI had supported this request in a letter which had been joined by nearly 70 news outlets.

The brief that has now been submitted to the Grand Chamber by MLDI and its coalition partners underlines the important function of comment sections on websites: they generate debate on issues of public interest and have turned the media from a space where the news is merely reported to an online community where the news is reported and discussed. The flow of traffic in online media is no longer one-way: users can have their say and engage both journalists and other users in conversation on important topics of the day. This has made an important contribution to the realisation of the right to freedom of expression for all.

MLDI’s brief draws on comparative law and sets out best practices developed by online media over the past fifteen years in order to demonstrate that protection from liability for intermediaries is crucial to protect free speech online.

MLDI is grateful to the Media Law Resource Center, a co-signatory, and Professor Lorna Woods from the University of Essex School of Law for their drafting contributions

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