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Let’s be careful out there!

28/07/2009

Anthony Doesburg has an interesting NZ Herald article on where internet users stand vis a vis the law.

This is a topic worth being aware of given for example apparent ramifications of some comments on the recent Weatherston case.

Doesburg looks at various facets, but focuses more specifically on blog comments. He quotes Russell Brown in this regard.

A couple of comments in particular drew Adam’s eye:-

there’s a naive belief abroad that you can say anything you like online. High-profile trials such as the Bain and Sophie Elliott murder cases have brought the issue to the fore as some bloggers, and subsequent commenters, feel compelled to give their verdict before the jury’s had a chance. But that’s an issue of contempt of court rather than defamation, and people prone to such recklessness could find the Solicitor-General David Collins gunning for them. He is apparently considering action over online comments about Sophie Elliott’s killer Clayton Weatherston.

Then this on defamation:-

Defamation, on the other hand, is straightforward, as John Burrows, a media law expert, law commissioner and former professor of law at the University of Canterbury, told me a couple of years ago. “The law is the law is the law,” Burrows says, emphasising that the medium in which a defamation is uttered is immaterial. Even just saying something slanderous about a third party in casual conversation is defamatory.

There is no hard-and-fast definition of what is defamatory, but any statement that wrongly harms someone’s reputation can be taken as such. A plaintiff must convince a judge or jury that his or her reputation has suffered, but doesn’t have a case if the defendant can prove the damaging statement is true.

Burrows warns that on that basis, any reckless claims about someone on a website, or in a blog, email, internet forum or podcast, could be defamatory. How a court will look upon it depends on how widely read or heard it is.

It’s a potential minefield for bloggers, particularly if they allow unmediated comments.

It is here that he quotes Russell Brown.

Adam came to the conclusion that we all need to be careful, so as Sergeant Mike Esterhaus used to say:-

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