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By: MarkJ - 7 January, 2011 (8:29 AM)
uk internet libel lawBroadband ISPs and the general public might soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief after the UK coalition governments Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, called existing Libel Law's a "laughing stock" and vowed to support reforms that would update defamation rules for the internet age and protect those who speak out in the public interest.

At present Internet Service Providers (ISP) are often put into an awkward position that effectively forces them to act as "judge and jury" over somebody else's online content (blog / forum post etc.). Back in November last year (here) several groups, including the ISPA, Facebook, Yahoo! and AOL, wrote an open letter to the government that clearly outlined their concerns.

Open Letter on Libel Law (Sample Quote)

We ask that the Government’s draft Bill provide the following protection for discussion on the Internet:
1. ISPs and forum hosts – ‘intermediaries’ - should not be forced to take down material without a determination by a court or competent authority that the content is defamatory. The claimant should in the first instance approach the author rather than an uninvolved intermediary.

2. There should be a single publication rule and a limitation period of one year from original publication.

3. Claimants in libel law should demonstrate that there has been a substantial tort in the jurisdiction in which they bring proceedings.

4. There should be a public interest defence in cases where the material is on a matter of public interest and the author has acted in accordance with expectations of the medium or forum.

The new Defamation Bill 2011, which is currently being drafted by the government's Justice Minister (Lord McNally), is expected to be published this Spring 2011 and will make it harder for commercial companies to clamp down on free speech and consumer opinion, both in the online and offline world.

Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, said:

"The test of a free press is its capacity to unearth the truth, exposing charlatans and vested interests along the way. It's simply not right when academics and journalists are effectively bullied into silence by the prospect of costly legal battles with wealthy individuals and big businesses.

This Government wants to restore our international reputation for free speech. We intend to provide a new statutory defence for those speaking out in the public interest and to clarify the law around the existing defences of fair comment, and justification."

Unfortunately we'll have to wait until the spring to find out exactly how much of the ISP and Internet Content Provider demands have been met. However the new bill will then be subject to months of debate, which could lead to some of the more radical reforms being watered down.
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