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Subject: Re: UKNM: Legal Responsibility of Content
From: Dominic Young
Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998 10:01:22 +0100

In message <199809221458 [dot] PAA03390atmail [dot] chinwag [dot] com>, Sam Michel
<samatchinwag [dot] com> writes

>what would happen if a guest on a TV/radio talk show
>slandered or libeled a 3rd party. Would the broadcaster be liable, or
>the guest, or both?

This is one reason why many talk shows are recorded, why radio phone-ins
have a ten second "profanity" delay and why the old James Whale TV show
had a prominent caption telling callers they were responsible for
anything they said (ten second delays were obviously beyond the wit of
TV back then). I think the broadcaster, the producer and the guest could
all expect a writ.

>I'm not sure a mailing list could constitute a publication as such, in fact
>legal-wise I personally think it would be wrong to consider it a
>publication. New media semantics...great! I suspect at some point there
>will be some sort of legal precedent set...gulp! Financially speaking, I
>suspect it's a bit of a red herring anyway!

I have sat through a lot of meetings about this very subject and I also
moderate a Compuserve forum. I think a moderator would have trouble
ducking responsibility and probably the service provider of the
forum/mailing list would have some too. This is a hot subject for debate
in the context of the internet because libel (and other misdemeanours -
copyright infringement, for example) can be committed very easily by
almost anyone. Obviously the damaged party - person who has been
libelled or copyright holder - wants to be able to take action against
someone who might be capable of paying up at the end, so they want to
sue the moderators and service providers or even the telcos rather than
the individual internet user who they might not even be able to
identify. The service providers and telcos, on the other hand, want to
be regarded in law as "common carriers" - no more responsible for what
passes across their services than the Post Office is responsible for the
libels committed in letters they carry. As far as I know there is no
definitive legal precedent on this one way or the other - hence the
discussions about how the law should address the issue of

The EC has discussed this point because it's seen as a possible brake on
the development of the internet and an area for potentially major legal
problems. Certainly a new approach is needed because, in this area, new

media is very different from old. Two things to bear in mind, though -
it's easier for mistakes to be corrected online, either by posting a
reply or taking some content off a site, than it is offline. That fact
means that it may be harder to demonstrate that you have been
significantly damaged by something said online.

All that said, I'm not aware of much case law on this (perhaps because
little significant damage has been done). It's a scary thing, though -
moderators and contributors should both be aware that what they do could
have consequences. By the way IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer) - this isn't
even my particular area of expertise. But I hope it's helpful input.
Dominic Young
News International (but speaking for himself)

  Re: UKNM: Legal Responsibility of Conten, Felix Velarde

  Re: UKNM: Legal Responsibility of Conten, Sam Michel

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