Online Libel Lawyers Explains history of Internet libel Primary and secondary disseminators in online defamation cases

Online libel lawyers

Specialist online libel lawyers explain the history of online libel- The Demon Case
The first reported UK Internet defamation case was Godfrey v Demon Internet Limited in 1999. Since then unwarranted and unkind slander on UK websites has been prolific.

Online Libel Lawyers

Online Libel Lawyers


In particular online discussion groups have proven to be the worst offenders. It’s a pity that things have gone this way since online discussion groups are invariably created so that consumers could benefit from each other’s experiences.


But online discussion groups are not necessarily being used correctly in all cases.


So if you are the subject of “squalid, obscene and defamatory content”, what can you do about it? Well, as you might expect, the law is complicated. Principally you must consider whether the defendant is a primary or a secondary disseminator.

Online defamation lawyers – Common Law

At common law the primary disseminator, the leading publisher is strictly liable whether or not it knew the defamatory content. The subordinate or secondary disseminator could take advantage of the common law defence of innocent distribution.

The Defamation Act 1996

The Defamation Act 1996 (“the Act”) tries to legislate for the common law position.


Under Section 1(1) of the Act there is a defence if you can show that you did not write, edit or publish the alleged defamatory statement and you took reasonable care in relation to its publication and you did not know nor had reason to believe that you did or cause or contributed to the release of a defamatory statement.


Under Section 1(2) of the Act “author”, “editor” and “publish” are defined.


Section 1(3) of the Act then sets out people who are likely to be secondary disseminators.


However, even if the online publisher escapes being classed as an editor or commercial publisher it could still be liable if it fails to take the standard of care set out in S1(1) (b) and (c) of the Act.


In the Demon case, the judge found that Demon was not a publisher within the meaning of S1(2) and 1(3) of the Act and could avail itself of the defence under S1(1) of the Act. But the judge found that Demon published the contents of the newsgroups within the common law meaning in that its activity was more than innocent as it chose to host the particular newsgroup on which the offending material was posted. According to the judge in the Demon case if you know about the defamation and you don’t take it down, then you face an “insuperable difficulty” in any defence under S1(1) of the Act. In other words, the S1(1) defence is not available to you once you have received a takedown notice of the defamatory material.


Further under the Act previous conduct or character can also negate the S1(1) defence as can the extent of responsibility for the content and the decision to publish it and the nature or circumstances of the publication.


Substantial damages have been awarded as online libel lawyers brought lawsuits. £450,000 awarded to Western Provident Union in its case against Norwich Union was. Damages of £101,000 awarded to Mr Andrew against British Gas for postings on an Intranet.

Online libel lawyers

Online libel lawyers

Libel lawyers – Limitation

There is a one year limitation period for libel. Each publication gives rise to a separate cause of action. The procedure to getting a resolution to online defamatory content is tricky and fraught with difficulty, not least because of recalcitrant defendants and smart opponent lawyers, but with specialist advice, you might be able to get the result you are seeking.



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2 Responses to Online Libel Lawyers Explains history of Internet libel

  1. Do you think further steps should be taken to monitor online discussion groups more closely?

    • Hi Eve –

      It’s a difficult balance to strike. The Article 15 of the EU Electronic Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC states as follows:
      Article 15
      No general obligation to monitor
      1. Member States shall not impose a general obligation on providers, when providing the services covered by Articles 12, 13 and 14, to monitor the information which they transmit or store, nor a general obligation actively to seek facts or circumstances indicating illegal activity.
      2. Member States may establish obligations for information society service providers promptly to inform the competent public authorities of alleged illegal activities undertaken or information provided by recipients of their service or obligations to communicate to the competent authorities, at their request, information enabling the identification of recipients of their service with whom they have storage agreements.

      It is therefore implied that if an application service provider or an internet service provider does choose to monitor the service closely they might lose the immunities under Articles 12, 13 and 14.

      The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, SI 2002/2013, incorporates the EU Electronic Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC into UK law.


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