Supreme Court Brings Libel Law into Internet Age

Article excerpt

BLOGGERS, TWEETERS and other internet users who post instant criticisms of artists, politicians and television shows have been granted new protection from libel claims.

The Supreme Court strengthened the defence of "fair comment" yesterday, bringing the law into line with the age of the internet and 24-hour broadcasting. Under the ruling, it is no longer necessary for defamation defendants to prove all the facts upon which their comment or criticism was made.

The case involves an ongoing dispute between a booking agency and a covers band called The Gillettes. Craig Joseph and fellow members of his group are suing Jason Spiller and his booking agency, 1311 Events Ltd, for defamation over material posted on the agency's website.

The posting said: "1311 Events is no longer able to accept bookings for this artist as the Gillettes c/o Craig Joseph are not professional enough to feature in our portfolio and have not been able to abide by the terms of their contract."

The agency pleaded both justification and fair comment, but when it came to the High Court, Mr Justice Eady struck out the fair comment defence. The Court of Appeal declined to reinstate it, and the case moved on to the Supreme Court, which reinstated it yesterday.

In his comments on the judgment, Lord Walker said: "The defence of fair comment (now to be called honest comment) originated in a narrow form in a society very different from today's. It was a society in which writers, artists and musicians were supposed to place their works, like wares displayed at market, before a relatively small, educated and socially elevated class, and it was in the context of published criticism of their works that the defence developed. …