Goldman On The UK Defamation Act of 2013

UK defamation act of 2013
Officials in the UK passed a new libel law, but will it be effective?

Last month, the United Kingdom finally greenlit new defamation statutes. Parliamentarians’ primary goals were to reduce libel tourism, plus fortify free speech protections.

Sides argued, lobbyists cajoled, and Parliament debated. When the machinations ended, the nation passed the UK Defamation Act of 2013 on April 25, 2013 ( Took effect on 1/1/2014).

But like many laws, the devil is in the details. To wit, the Godfather of 21st century Internet law theory, Eric Goldman, articulated potential problems with the Defamation Act of 2013. So, let’s review.

UK’s New Defamation Law

The UK Defamation Act of 2013 passed on April 25, 2013. Generally speaking, the bill tightened the country’s libel tourism provisions and bolstered free speech rights. At least that’s the message dominating the media. But as Goldman points out, Section 5 of the bill – which deals with “Operators of Websites” — may result in unforeseen consequences.

Section 5 of the UK Defamation Act of 2013 establishes a notice-and-takedown process for user-generated content (UGC). According to the law, a website cannot be sued for libel if the plaintiff doesn’t first send a takedown request. If they don’t act with malice, webmasters who edit their sites are eligible for protection under the law.

As is often the case, however, a “rub” exists. Under the UK Defamation Law of 2013, a website operator cannot claim immunity if they’re unable to provide identifying information about users. In other words, a webmaster is only safe if he or she can hand over information that allows alleged victims to track down their defamers.

So what does that mean in practical use? In all likelihood, people who run UK-based websites will probably remove material the second they receive a request. It’s the financially sound option.

Goldman also highlights that the UK reforms don’t include something similar to Section 230 of the CDA. The omission could cause headaches – and wind up clogging the courts. (Ironic, since one the bill’s original goal was to reduce the number of frivolous defamation lawsuits.)

Goldman’s On-point Theory About UK’s New Defamation Law

In an article entitled, UK’s New Defamation Law May Accelerate The Death of Anonymous User-Generated Content Internationally, Eric Goldman opines that “the act’s most change to existing law is creating a user identification obligation.” He also points out that “having a user’s IP address doesn’t seem to satisfy the act.”

Goldman also deftly explains that the reforms don’t restrict access to data for defamation litigation purposes, which means anybody will be able to subpoena websites for identifying information. In other words, expect people to use the law for various intellectual property issues, as well.

What Will The Future Hold For The UK Defamation Act of 2013?

Welp, at this point, there is no stopping the UK Defamation Act of 2013. It’s the new law of Her Majesty’s land and goes into effect on January 1, 2014. It will be interesting to see if the new statutes will create fresh problems.

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