Internet defamation in the UK

After discovering my name and my partners business were being attacked on Facebook, we sought legal advice from Adlex Solicitors. Adam & Sarah were extremely professional & efficient. After one letter to the party concerned, the situation was resolved. I would not hesitate to recommend Adlex to anyone in the future. Professional, efficient, friendly & no hidden costs.

C. Stephenson

I contacted Adlex after finding them on the internet when I searched for 'internet lawyers'. There was an anonymous, derogatory blog that had been posted on the internet about my company that we needed to be removed and the site hosting the post would not respond to my emails. Following a couple of very strong and fact-based letters, referring to previous internet defamation cases, the website promptly removed the post from the internet. I would not hesitate to use Adlex solicitors again. A big thank you to Adam and Sarah.

J.H.

As internet lawyers, we are constantly approached by victims of internet defamation. So much is being written by so many online these days that it’s not surprising that internet libel litigation is a huge growth industry. Defamatory comments can obviously cause serious damage to individuals or businesses, particularly when they make their way to the top of the search engine results.

Usually our main objective in online defamation cases – where we are acting for the defamed party – is the fast removal of the defamatory post or other content from the website, ideally without the need to file legal proceedings. There are some instances where going to court may be inevitable, but this is very much a last resort. Often claimants will (reluctantly) relinquish a claim for damages provided that they can get the objectionable material removed.

If you are the victim of internet defamation...

You need to develop a clear legal strategy.

Obviously the starting point is to confront the author of the defamatory material with a "solicitor’s letter" from an internet defamation solicitor. However, the author may be unidentifiable or based abroad or not worth suing.

Therefore, we tend also to apply legal pressure to the operator of the website containing the online defamation (assuming not the same as the author) and/or to the host of that website. Under UK law, both can be held liable for defamation in certain circumstances. And the Defamation Act 2013, though designed to provide a defence to website defamation, can be used as an additional means of exerting pressure on site operators in cases where the poster of the material is anonymous. See further below.

Another important option for victims of website libel is to seek removal of the relevant search result from Google or other search engines. From a victim's point of view, this can often be almost as useful a result as removal of the defamation from the website itself. We have a good track record in achieving deletion of defamatory material from search engines. While Google and other search engines don't lightly remove material from their natural search results, our experience is that they will frequently comply without the need for court action once they receive a detailed and comprehensive submission setting out the factual and legal basis of the case (See the Right to be Forgotten for information about removal of Google search results on the basis of breach of privacy).

If you are a website operator or host worried about liability in the UK for online defamation...

You have good reason to be concerned. Under UK law the position is rather complex but the starting point is that, not only authors of defamatory content, but also "secondary publishers" who store or disseminate information, such as website hosts or operators of website forums or other websites with user generated content ("UGC"), can all be held liable for website / online defamation.

However, if what you do amounts purely to hosting online content or operating a website with content posted by others, the law (in particular, the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 and the Defamation Act 1996) may let you off the hook provided that you had no reason to know of the defamatory content and that, when you found about it, you quickly removed it.

Understandably, those operating online forums or other sites with UGC often prefer to vet and edit material before allowing it to be posted. But, by moderating content in this way, under UK law website or online operators will be more likely to be held legally responsible for internet defamation occurring on the website or other online location.

The safest course of action for website operators or hosts facing allegations of internet libel is therefore to take down all of the content immediately. If you delay or attempt to edit the material, then your risk of legal liability for online defamation increases substantially.

However, the Defamation Act 2013 and associated regulations (full title: "The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013") offer an alternative route to website operators, though not a straightforward one. Web operators have a defence to website defamation if they can show that they didn't post the defamatory statement on the site - provided they react correctly to a notice of complaint from a complainant claiming that it can't identify the person who posted the statement. The regulations set up a complex series of communications / steps (with relatively short timescales attached to each) whereby the site operator contacts the poster to get either consent to removal of material or else the poster's identification details to enable the complainant to sue the poster.

If they receive a complaint under the Defamation Act 2013, website operators have a difficult decision to make. Do they chase the carrot of a complete defamation defence by leaving the disputed material in place and devoting time, cost and effort in trying to comply with the tricky regulatory regime? If they get it wrong, web operators not only lose the Defamation Act 2013 defence but also risk their other possible defamation defences which depend on the swift removal of content. Or do they simply remove the offending content to achieve a quick end to the matter? Web operators will need to develop a strategy, weighing up the relevant factors including the importance which they place on preserving UGC on their sites and the cost / feasibility of setting up a system to comply with the Defamation Act 2013 regime.

We offer a priced-fix service comprising detailed guidance on the steps to be taken to avail of the Defamation Act 2013 defence, template communications to use at each stage to comply with the regulations and advice on implementation of the system.

What is the difference between internet libel and internet slander?

People are often confused about this. Libel is simply defamation in written form. So, defamatory comments on websites and in emails are examples of internet libel. Whereas slander is defamation in verbal form eg an audio recording.

How Adlex Solicitors can you help you with internet defamation ...

... for a free initial chat and more information, contact internet lawyer Adam Taylor of Adlex Solicitors on +44 (0) 207 317 8404 or email.

  • Or request a callback asap

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