Removing content from websites
If whoever wrote the defamatory content also operates the website on which it appears, then the first step is often to send a legal letter to that person requiring removal, amongst other things. This is often on the basis of internet defamation (i.e. libel and slander) or infringement of privacy, depending of course on the circumstances.
In the UK, the host of the offending website may also be potentially liable if it didn’t comply with a removal request within a reasonable time of being put on notice about defamatory material on a site hosted by it.
If the writer has used a domain name for the website which reflects the name or trade mark of the person being attacked, then there might also be a basis to achieve removal of the website by seeking recovery of the domain name via domain arbitration, especially in a business context – see domain name disputes.
Often the offending post appears on someone else’s site – e.g., a forum, review or “scam-busting” site. If so, part of the strategy may involve applying legal pressure on the operator of the site.
UK law gives website operators a defence to claims of defamation on their website if they can demonstrate that it was someone else (i.e. their user) who actually posted the defamatory statement. However, and this is where pressure can be applied when the poster is anonymous, to claim the defence the operator must respond and deal correctly with a notice of complaint from a complainant claiming that it can’t identify the poster. The relevant regulations set up a complex series of communications / steps (with relatively short timescales attached to each) whereby the site operator must contact 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. Sometimes site operators prefer to remove material rather than deal with the hassle and risks of trying to comply with such notices.
As always in website content removal cases, the key is to devise a strategy which is most likely to achieve takedown in as cost-efficient a way as possible.