Consultation on Internet libel launched
Ministry of Justice to review multiple publication rule
17 Sep 09

The UK’s Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on defamation on the Internet, with particular focus on the “multiple publication rule”.

What’s multiple publication? Simple, really. Every time someone visits a story on a web site, or a blog post, that counts as publication. If they then refresh the page, that’s two publications, and so on.

With print publications, there is a statute of limitations of one year for libel proceedings. That is to say, if someone published a libellous comment in a newspaper, the person who feels he has been defamed has to respond by issuing legal proceedings. After a year, they can no longer sue. There is a logic to this: if someone genuinely felt they had been damaged, or put at risk of damage, by a news story or comment, it is unlikely they would wait a year before commencing proceedings against a writer, newspaper, magazine or publisher.

With online publication, however, as every time a page is refreshed counts as publiaction, there is no initial point of publication recognised in law. Hence, someone could sue a blogger for something they had written five years ago, but had not been noticed until last week.

This is the issue the consultation seeks to address. You can read the initial consultation paper here

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.