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British libel laws may chill blog publishing

September 5, 2006

The Guardian Unlimited had an article last week on British libel laws and the Internet.

In the UK, a a person is defamed if statements in a publication expose him to hatred or ridicule, cause him to be shunned, lower him in the estimation in the minds of ‘right-thinking’ members of society or disparage him in his work. Defenses include proving the statement to be true or fair comment – so long as the opinion is based on true facts, is genuinely held and not influenced by malice.

Problem is that the laws are wide open to interpretation and that the legal costs of defending a libel action are considerable. Plus the loser pays the winner’s legal fees plus damages. Newspapers, even with a strong case, are even reluctant to fight libel claims.

The article does not address blog publishers being chilled by British libel laws. However, talking with London solicitor, Justin Patten, my source for this post, he feels it’s a reason that the number of lawyer blogs is far lower in the UK than the US.

Having a country founded on the right of free speech ain’t bad for bloggers.