Defamation: International Decisions
Following are dispositions of defamation claims brought in international courts. These judgments would probably not be enforceable in U.S. courts. See Bachchan v. India Abroad Publ’ns, Inc., 154 Misc. 2d 228 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1992) (declining to enforce libel ruling of English court); Abdullah v. Sheridan Square Press, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 2515, 1994 WL 419847 (S.D.N.Y. May 4, 1994); see also Telnikoff v. Matusevitch, 25 Media L. Rep. 2473 (Md. Ct. App. 1997), aff’d, 159 F.3d 636 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (same).
- Godfrey v. Demon Internet Ltd., 1999 WL 477647 (High Ct. U.K. 1999). Defendant Internet service provider, hosted a newsgroup that contained a posting defamatory of plaintiff. The court held that under the UK Defamation Act of 1996, the ISP was not the publisher of the statement but could still be liable because it knew about the posting but chose not to remove it from its server. The Defamation Act shields ISPs from liability as long as they have exercised “reasonable care” to prevent defamatory publication. The case settled on appeal in 2001, with the ISP agreeing to pay approximately $25,000 in damages plus plaintiff’s costs and fees.
- Loutchansky v. The Times Newspapers Ltd., 2001 EWCA Civ. 1805 (Eng. and Wales C.A. 2001). The Court of Appeal held that a newspaper’s online archive does not enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to defamatory material. The ruling confirmed that defamatory content made available online will be considered to be republished each time that users access it. Defendant printed articles identifying plaintiff as “a suspected Mafia boss.” After print publication, the articles were posted in an archive on defendant’s Web site. The court held that although the printed articles were protected by a qualified privilege to defamation regarding matters of public interest, the online archives were not protected by the privilege. The court noted that continuing to post the material without a warning that the allegations might be untrue was not only defamation but also irresponsible journalism.
- Gutnick v. Dow Jones & Co. (Australia 2001). An Australian court ruled that an Australian citizen may sue a U.S. company in Australia for allegedly defamatory remarks in an online publication. Plaintiff Joe Gutnick filed suit alleging that an article published in the online version of Barron’s falsely portrayed him as a con artist. The court agreed with plaintiff’s argument that articles online have a global reach. In response to Dow Jones’ argument that the article was published in New York and intended for a U.S. audience, the court noted that Dow Jones could have limited the distribution of its online publication to U.S. readers in an attempt to protect itself. The High Court of Australia upheld the ruling, reiterating that Dow Jones should have known of the potential reach of its publication and emphasizing that for jurisdictional purposes, “defamation is to be located at the place where the damage to reputation occurs.” See Dow Jones & Co. v. Gutnick (2002) HCA 56. The Court also noted that Australian law does not espouse the “single publication” rule adopted in much of the U.S.
- In re Moshe D., Court of Cessation, Rome (Italy, 2001). Overturning the decision of a lower tribunal, Italy’s Court of Cessation held that it has jurisdiction over foreign-based Web sites containing defamatory material because end users access the sites from within Italy’s territories. The suit involved a defamation action against a number of Web sites that claimed plaintiff had kidnapped his daughters and was raising them in Genoa in defiance of Jewish law.
- Lefebure v. Lacambre, Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, Ref. 55181/98, No. 1/JP (Fr. June 9, 1998). Under French law, an Internet service provider is responsible for the morality of the content distributed via the client operated Web sites it hosts, and may incur liability thereon. Plaintiff, a model, claimed defendant ISP violated her privacy and damaged her professional reputation by allowing a subscriber to publish nude photographs of her on a Web site. The court awarded damages and ordered the site shut down.
- Rolex SA v. eBay GmbH, LG Düsseldorf, Case No. 4 a O 464/01 (Oct. 29, 2002). A German court held that it was neither reasonable nor technologically feasible for the German arm of eBay to prevent the sale of fake Rolex watches on its online auction site. Under the German Teleservices Law, a service provider is not accountable for infringing activity unless it has “actual knowledge” of that activity. Providers are not required to regulate third party postings or transmissions and cannot be held liable for their content. The court further held that the company could not be liable for trademark infringement elsewhere in the European Union. But see Graf v. Microsoft GmbH, OLGZ Cologne, No. 15 U 221/01 (May 28, 2002) (preliminary opinion suggesting that Microsoft’s ISP would be liable for content posted in its online communities).
- Metropolitan Int'l Schools v. Designtechnica Corp. and Google UK and Google Inc.,  EWHC 1765 (QB)=. The UK High Court ruled that Google was not a publisher of defamatory statements that appeared in its search results. The case was commenced by a UK provider of distance-learning courses ("plaintiff") that found defamatory comments about its services on a review site run by US company Designtechnica. Plaintiff sued not only Designtechnica but also Google US and UK because excerpts of the defamatory comments appeared in Google's search results. The Court concluded Google was a mere facilitator rather than publisher of the defamatory “snippets,” and thus was not liable for the defamatory content.