The Law of Defamation and the Internet

By Youm, Kyu Ho | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Law of Defamation and the Internet


Youm, Kyu Ho, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


* The Law of Defamation and the Internet. Matthew Collins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 430 pp. $150 hbk.

Is there a need, whether actual or imagined, for "cyberlaw"? The answer to this question depends on whom you ask. Those "cyber-crazies" will likely say, "Absolutely." To many "cyber-skeptics," however, the question may not deserve a serious response because they are deeply troubled by the very notion of "Internet exceptionalism."

Matthew Collins, a Melbourne, Australia, attorney who specializes in media law, is not a cyber-crazy or a cyber-skeptic in considering the law in the age of the information superhighway. In prefacing his book, "The Law of Defamation and the Internet," Collins notes that the Internet is "neither unregulated nor incapable of being regulated," although "the law has struggled to keep pace with technology" in the past few years. He posits that libel is libel regardless of whether it is in Cyberspace or not.

Given the truly revolutionary impact of the Internet on global communication, it is hardly a surprise that Collins characterizes the Internet as "a medium of virtually limitless international defamation." In this light, Collins' book is a timely effort to identify and examine various key legal issues concerning defamation via the Internet from an international and comparative perspective.

The main focus of the book is the statutory and common law on civil defamation on the Internet in the United Kingdom and Australia. According to Collins, the two countries have much in common in their defamation laws, and "decisions of the United Kingdom are treated with high respect in Australia, and vice versa."

Nonetheless, the book is not limited to Anglo-Australian defamation law. It discusses the European Convention on Human Rights and the Directive on Electronic Commerce, issued by the European Parliament and Council in June 2000. The directive, which is incorporated into the domestic U.K. law, protects Internet intermediaries from liability for hosting, caching, or carrying third-party content to a greater extent than the U.K. national law does.

Collins also devotes a fifty-page chapter to analyzing the principal U.S. statutory and case law on Internet libel. His succinct discussion of American law reflects his discerning assessment that Internet communication will entail a growing interaction between the United States and other countries including the United Kingdom and Australia. No less important is the widely accepted fact, as Collins points out, that American experience with Internet law serves as a useful framework for the operation of United Kingdom and Australian law on Internet defamation. …

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