Legislators should not be forced into a knee-jerk reaction of making internet sites liable for comments on chatrooms and message boards in the wake of the speculation regarding the names of eight footballers accused of rape, warns Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC), the leading media and defamation firm.
Comments Les Christy, media expert at RPC, “Currently, providers of chatrooms and message boards are not liable when the names of the accused are published provided they act quickly to remove contentious material in response to complaints or an obvious legal threat. Legislators may decide to close this loophole, but this could force many websites to close”
“Changing the law would make internet sites as liable for any all content posted by users as TV and Radio companies are for what they broadcast and newspapers are for what they publish”.
There has been widespread concern that the naming of the alleged accused in this case could prejudice the case and make it more difficult to ensure a fair trial before an unbiased jury.
Comments Christy “One option for legislators would be to make internet sites liable for this, but this would make the maintenance and monitoring of chat rooms and message boards so expensive that most would have to close down”
This issue follows the recent decision by Microsoft to close down their chat rooms in response to their increasing use by paedophiles and spammers.
Comments Christy, “Microsoft felt that the cost of monitoring the chat rooms and the possible hit to their reputation was too high compared with to their benefits.”
“But Microsoft have other revenue streams, whilst some internet companies see their chat rooms and message board as key revenue attractors, and would be forced out of existence should legislation be brought in to make internet sites responsible for all content on them”.
The issue is already being discussed in the USA, where basketball star Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers has been accused of rape and his accuser’s anonymity has been compromised by details being published on websites, including her name, that she auditioned for “American Idol” and that she recently took an overdose. These details threaten to prejudice the case.
Reynolds Porter Chamberlain advise internet sites to take some proactive steps, although they do not believe that they should act as police.
Christy says “Internet sites should be clearly contactable, responsive to warnings and complaints, and should provide guidelines about what is appropriate for discussion, specifically mentioning libel”.