[Home]GodfreyVsDemonInternet

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This was a UK legal case involving libel and Usenet.

Brief summary: Demon Internet are an ISP who host Usenet articles. Godfrey felt that one such article libeled him, and sued Demon as the publisher. Demon tried to use the defence of innocent dissemination. The judge held that, once they had been informed of the libel, they were no longer "innocent", and so were indeed liable.

For more details, search on the words in the title, or see, eg: http://www.cyber-rights.org/reports/demon.htm.


In my view, this roughly follows common sense, and the same sense will apply to Wiki sites. The good news is that innocent dissemination is a possible defence up until you are notified of the libel. It should be safe to run a Wiki so long as you delete anything which anyone complains about, as soon as they complain. If there are no complaints, you have no worries. This is the normal state of affairs.

The bad news is that once someone does complain, you can't just say, "but I didn't write it". You either have to remove the offending material, or be prepared to fight for it.


Isn't it true that in Great Britain, if you are sued for libel, the onus is on you (the defendant) to prove every sentence? Thus, as this is very expensive (often impossible), most libel cases are settled out of court. --

Worse, as truth isn't always a defence. But in this case Demon's defence wasn't that it was true, but that they didn't write it. -- DaveHarris


The cyber-rights.org report is a good concise analysis. I'm not entirely certain what the best approach should be.

The UseNet article in question was a forgery which would appear to most people to come from Godfrey. (A well-done UseNet forgery is difficult to detect.) In my view, there is an important difference between defending a right to say "Clifford Adams is bad" (even anonymously), and publishing a message like "I am bad", apparently signed by the same "Clifford Adams". Many sites that strongly defend free speech would remove a forged article.

Locally, for any sites I host, I am likely to remove disputed content if threatened with legal action. Most legally questionable writing would be removed anyway (because it doesn't fit within a site's mission or the local community standards).

Personally, I'm a bit more concerned about copyrights. Fortunately, one of the rational parts of the US "DigitalMillenniumCopyrightAct?" (DMCA) is its limitation of liability. See [1] for an overview of the DMCA, which summarizes the relevant part as:

When data that violates copyright law exists on a system while in transit (1), in storage (2), on users web pages and storage space (3), or as a link from search technologies (4), the service provider's liability is limited if he does not know about the activities, has the ability to block access to the material, and will remove the site when asked by the owner of the copyright. (9-10). There are further restrictions, but the idea is that the service provider should make good faith attempts to follow all copyright laws.

See [2] for a sample DMCA notice, and note the restrictions including:

5. A statement that the complaining party has a GoodFaith belief that use of the material is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
6. A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the copyright owner.

--CliffordAdams


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