I spoke with CJOB|680’s Richard Cloutier this morning regarding the Annual Report released today by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which focuses on online reputation and business accountability in the digital age. Please listen to the 2 part interview part 1 and part 2 in which we discuss (among other things) what folks like yours truly are doing to help families to combat cyber-bullying.
Privacy Commissioner’s Annual Report, online reputation & cyber-bullying discussed with CJOB (Audio)June 6, 2013
Are website operators presumed to have “published” defamatory materials that they deliberately link to from their websites? If not, what are the circumstances where it can be inferred that a website operator has “published” hyperlinked defamatory materials? We may be about to find out. The Supreme Court of Canada has just granted leave to appeal of Crookes v. Newton, the B.C. decision that I summarized in a previous post last October.
There’s still plenty of “grey areas” in Internet law. Hopefully, the Supreme Court of Canada will provide more definitive guidance for legal practitioners and website operators in the growing area of online reputation management. In the meantime, website operators should seek legal advice prior to hyperlinking to any potentially defamatory materials on the Internet.
The number of cases involving Internet defamation seem to be growing every day. So too, are the number of related issues that businesses need to consider in relation to online activities. Case in point is the recent British Columbia Court of Appeal decision of Crookes v. Newton, where the court was asked if providing a hyperlink to another website containing defamatory comments constituted Internet defamation.
A key hurdle that claimants must prove in defamation lawsuits is that defendants “published” defamatory words. Internet defamation is no different, and in the Crookes case, the court concluded that providing a hyperlink does not necessarily equal the “publishing” of defamatory content. If a website simply provides a hyperlink, or describes a hyperlink’s content in a neutral manner, then according to the court in Crookes, the hyperlink is not adopting the offending words as its own and is not indirectly “publishing” them. However, if the linking website endorses the content of the hyperlink material or encourages the reader to click the hyperlink to the website that contains defamatory material, the defendant may be just as liable for defamation as the original author of the offending material.
The Crookes case provides useful guidance, but businesses should be reminded that each Internet defamation case will turn on its own specific facts, and factors that will be considered include the wording, tone and placement of hyperlinks. To help minimize the risk of being sued for the publication of defamatory comments, business owners should seek legal advice prior to hyperlinking to any potentially defamatory materials on the Internet.
A widely reported and controversial issue these days relates the identification of anonymous bloggers (I’ve commented on this issue in previous posts). On point, Cook County (Illinois) Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Lawrence has ordered the identification of an anonymous commenter. According to the Daily Herald, Judge Lawrence has ruled that the Daily Herald and Comcast must reveal the identity of a person who posted a comment on dailyherald.com.
It seems that website operators are being increasingly asked, or ordered, to reveal the identity of anonymous commentators or bloggers, many of whom have likely presumed that their identity would never be disclosed. However, Northwestern University law professor and First Amendment scholar Martin Redish tells the Daily Herald, “[a]ssume a worst-case scenario”. “Proceed on the assumption that your identity can be revealed.”
Americans are very fond of their First Amendment right to free speech (in Canada we call it Freedom of Expression). However, this right does not protect writers whose comments are defamatory. As I’ve said before, this is a rapidly emerging area of law and it’s becoming increasingly important to stay on top of developments.