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Censorship Your Rights Online

UK Censorship: Demonic Consequences 196

"I got into the Internet because I believed in the promise of freedom for all; I never imagined it would be the most easily censored medium there is." These are the words of a director of the Campaign Against Censorship of the Internet in Britain - which has now been moved to the good old U.S.A. because its British ISP is too afraid of libel suits to continue hosting it. Why? Because Demon Internet settled the libel suit brought by Laurence Godfrey. British ISPs are now (rightly) terrified, and are (unfortunately) censoring Web sites like Outcast merely because of the possibility of future libels that might be published. (more)

The problem is with the British legal system, which makes defending against libel suits difficult. Essentially, the defendant has to prove his or her innocence, typically by proving the truth of every challenged statement (and there are other systemic flaws as well). In such a system, putting up a defense is such a hassle - and so expensive - that settling out of court is almost always easier.

The Laurence Godfrey case was settled out of court, setting not a precedent but a bad example. Most libel cases do settle. After Godfrey's victory, now even more will.

One of the better-known cases which went all the way to the verdict was the McLibel trial, in which everyone's favorite multinational food chain sued two unemployed activists for handing out a pamphlet. Attempting to prove the truth of every single statement in the brief factsheet took the vegetarians two years. They could not afford to pay legal counsel or even to buy the transcripts of their own trial's proceedings. They lost, but the negative publicity was a Pyrrhic victory for McDonald's.

And in very recent news, the big story has been one in which a Holocaust-denier brought suit for a book which (essentially) called him a Holocaust-denier. This time, the good guys won, but only because the author and publisher were willing to spend two million pounds to illustrate that the facts were on their side. The bookstores that were sued had settled quickly out of court and agreed to the plaintiff's terms. (If you follow this case, some excellent and very detailed legal analysis can be found at a site I happen to Webmaster, in the essays Irving'sWar.)

Even if a libel suit is only hinted-at, as in the Outcast and CACIB cases, pre-emptively removing the material is the publisher's safest move. Don't like what someone says? Afraid of what they might say? Gag'em!

The U.K. needs to wise up and bring its libel law into the 20th century, or its citizens will quickly find themselves inhabiting a Bland Speech Zone. An island on the Internet, if you will, where nobody dares say anything about anyone else - or if they do, they prudently take their speech (and their money) offshore.

As a Demon settlement news report predicted two weeks ago:

"If the ISPs become more cautious over what material they allow to be published - by screening submissions or suspending Web sites - they could inflame the debate over freedom of expression or damage internet-based businesses."

Neither of which, surely, will benefit the people of the U.K.

Update: 04/18 03:21 by J : Two good commentaries today from lawyers relating to the Holocaust-denier's lawsuit. The legal team defending against the Holocaust-denier's lawsuit has an interesting contrary view in today's Independent. They argue that British libel law works, and is getting better in response to criticism. But when they write:

"...libel actions and the associated costs are part of the process of publishing. They are to the publishing industry what construction disputes are to the building industry. If the litigation is expensive that is a criticism of the price of litigation - not of libel litigation specifically."

they obscure an important point. We are all publishers in the internet age. If publishing is to be restricted to those who can afford "industry" insurance policies against million-pound legal fees, put a fork in the U.K.'s internet - it's done.

And, see also a legal viewpoint from the defending publisher's lawyers.

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UK Censorship: Demonic Consequences

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The fact of the matter is that the UK is unfortunately still lost in dreams of its past rather than looking ahead to the future. The nation which once ruled half the world is now becoming an insignificant backwater, as it ceases to offer anything to the rest of the world. The laws and institutions which govern it are incredibly outdated, and work slowly at best, and not at all at worst, and the means required to change them are even more slow and frought with pitfalls.

    Unlike America, with its modern and logical system of laws, Britain has no such checks and balances against things like this. And the government is slow to change, and seems unable to deal with the modern world and its trappings. The new laws coming in aren't worth the paper they're printed on, and will do yet more harm to our country and net use here.

    I'm from the UK and I love living here, but sometimes I wish we were more like America.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The UK is cracking up, and its been due for a long time.

    Four nations, one nation exerting a disproportionate amount of control over the other three. It has tried to wipe out the languages and cultures within it (Welsh, Scottish Gaelic). It spent 200 years brutally colonising an Empire which is now dying. The last embers are fading as the four nations within the UK are reaching for democracy.

    Hence the UK govt can only fight back by the iron fist in the velvet glove

    Leave now, save yourself. Save two, get one free
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:36PM (#1128533)
    -"Hi honey, I'm in jail."
    -"What?! What for?"
    -"I robbed a limousine."
    -"What? Why did you do that?!"
    -"Well, you see, Slashdot told me to do it! It says rob limo, rob limo everywhere. It influenced my mind, because I'm so stupid to think with my own brains. I desperately need some kind of censorship to decide what's good for me. I have no will of my own. It's their fault."
    -"...I know, let's sue this Slashdot thing!"
    -"Jolly good!"

    Sir, you are arrested for having the words "Blair" and "suc" and "ks" written backwards in the source of your web page. This is clearly libel and as such we will place you into arrest by terminating you immediately with this well-directed shot of clueless legalese.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:59PM (#1128534)
    Yo, Wassup Homies!

    I is da famous gangsta rappa, Ice Creem, and I would like to share wit' you my thoughts on dis matter, which is of real importance to da people of England.

    I went to England on my last tour wit' my crew and it seemed to me that there is some heavy shit goin' on over there. Their "Labour" government (dat is something like our own Democrat party) seems to be trying to crack down on many forms of free speech. They have this law called "RIP" (Rest in Pieces or something) which make it illegal for you to have pictures of ho's on your computer, and now they is tryin' to take down websitez with dirty pictures on too.

    But this is about more than pictures of ho's. It is about free speech. It means that when I is in da UK I cannot use the web to disrespect my homies, or else the government will sue me. Back in my hood, if I want to censor someone who disses my bitch, then I pop a cap in his ass. That's the justice of da street and that's the way it's always bin. Dis new law is very sinister.

    Best Wishes, Da Notorious Ice Creem

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:06PM (#1128535)

    Demon basically dropped the ball.

    If someone put what looked like libellous statements on a web server, and the alleged libel victim complained to the hosting ISP, you'd expect the ISP to investigate and/or drop the page right?

    Web server admins make decisions about content all the time. They censor based on law, taste, bandwidth... no big deal. When you want to put up a webpage with dodgy content, you have to find an ISP prepared to publish your pages. No big deal.

    Usenet is not that different.

    Usenet servers are local servers. Messages are not transmitted; they are STORED and forwarded. When you request a message from soc.culture.thai, you don't retrieve a message from a computer in Thailand, you retrieve the message from your ISP's local server. And don't try to compare Usenet servers to proxies or caches; proxies and caches refresh after a few hours- with a Usenet server the messages are held for days or weeks on end.

    It basically boils down to this one issue:

    If you run a Usenet server, you are publishing.

    And as we all know, libel is the crime of publishing untrue defamatory statements.

    Demon committed libel.

    And the great thing about UK law is the word "reasonable". Did Demon have "reasonable" grounds to suspect that they had a libellous message on their server? Did Demon have "reasonable" notification and time to remove the message? Crikey, yes they did. Loads. And Demon still didn't pull the message.

    With a UK libel case, normally it would never get to court. What normally happens is that the person who was libelled contacts the publisher and says "oi, that's not right, remove/correct it". Then the publisher checks it's facts and, if it thinks it's appropriate, corrects or pulls the article and we all go home and live happily ever after and nobody goes to court.

    My point here is that the UK libel laws don't allow you to just sue the publisher straight off. You have to be "reasonable" and give the publisher a chance to comply. Only if they refuse to comply with your requests can you take them to court.

    Godfrey contacted Demon and requested that the libellous message be removed on numerous occasions. Demon refused despite these numerous warnings. Taking Demon to court was a last resort.

    Now you and I know that the exact same libellous message was on thousands of other servers, but that's not the point. Godfrey requested that Demon remove a libellous message. Yes, he could have requested the same thing from thousands of other ISPs, but he didn't. He just requested that the message be removed from Demon's server, not anybody else's. Demon repeatedly refused to comply and hey presto, they got banged to rights guv. No big deal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:31PM (#1128536)
    for this great article on censorship coming from the biggest pile of hypocritical shit to ever walk the face of the earth, TacoBoy.

    Some people are instantly modded out of sight. That is not censorship. You continue to post these stories pretending that you are the bastion of free and independent thought, and all it proves is that you are more of a phony every day.

    Today, it is outrage at censorship. Yesterday, it was an off-topic post about the stock market, but everytime someone shits a Lego, you write a story about it. Yup, that is on-topic.

    Funny how the stock market was on-topic when all those IPOs were happening and Linux was getting validated. Now that those companies have tanked at a greater rate than the overall market, the subject is taboo. Or even better, how many stories did we get on the LinuxOne IPO? Oh yeah, but we are not CNBC, unless ESR writes us a memo on how much he is worth. I want a new memo from gunboy on how much he is worth today.

    Everytime you open your mouth, you find another foot to stick in it. Three hours till the market opens and your shotglass portfolio will soon be an eyedropper.

    One more thing, keep up the good work.
  • The most entertaining thing is that the Daily Mail is now waging war against the European Bill of Human Rights - and state a lot of things which are a perverted reading at best (for example, that schoolteachers would be powerless to prevent sex between two pupils, *even gay sex*) [the Daily Mail concentrates on things like this.. I assume to shock the Middle England readers].

    The paper has its own agenda, and it's quite sickening how they misrepresent so many things. Still, maybe people will eventually stop reading them.
  • That's an excellent point.

    Also, a capitalist societly like the US will be happy to take your money and defend your freedom. Okay, not that internet stocks are doing wonderfully or anything now, (right, Taco?) but I could see how this might send a chill through the British ISP market, or make people think twice before hosting their site there.

    Heck, get one of those K00L country code domains, I *know* they don't care what you do with them...
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • I totally disagree, because taking away freedoms is a slippery slope. Everyone's always quick to tell us how teensy-weensy their particular form of censorship is -- "No comparison at all to muzzling the people!" they exclaim.

    Agreed in part. It IS a slippery slope, and care must be taken. I like /.'s approach because it doesn't actually remove posts, yet helps to keep the discussions functional.

    The alternative is a sort of censorship where posting to /. becomes pointless due to the noise. There is little difference between 'you may not speak' and 'you may speak, but your voice will never be heard over the thousand yipping morons who will surround you'.

    Read the discussions at -2 some time to see what I mean. IMHO, /.'s approach is much better than the alternatives.

  • And as we all know, libel is the crime of publishing untrue defamatory statements.

    Ok. Does this mean if I say "I *think* the UK government is run by weenies", noone can cry libel?

    After all, how can someone say I *don't* think that way? :)

  • Libel and slander in British Law is -technically- very simple, and actually quite good. It requires the accuser of libel to demonstrate that the offending remarks have damaged the plaintiff's name and image in the eyes of others.

    Now, that (IMHO) is quite a sensible criterion. If a remark has no influence on other people's opinions, whatsoever, then what does it matter whether it's true, false or purple with green spots?

    On the other hand, if the comments have seriously impacted the plaintiff (not just in their mind, but in the views of people in general who have heard the remarks), then it makes sense to weigh whether the remarks are, on the balance of probability, true or false.

    If the accusations are true, and they cause damage to someone's image, then that should be fair comment. If what you're doing is LIKELY to invoke the wrath of society, if it knew, you should be willing to accept the risks.

    On the other hand, if the accusations are false, the people who made the remarks should make some kind of reparation for the damage they've done. Freedom speech is a great thing, same as freedom of movement, but you still expect to cough up cash if you drive through someone's gate and demolish the front of their house.

    IMHO, libel laws (NOT just in the UK, but in the US as well) need to stop assuming one side is guilty and the other is innocent. In the US, libel is next to impossible to prove, because of the 1st Ammendment. If you deliberately make remarks which destroy other people's livlihoods or standing in the community, for that purpose, the last thing anyone needs is for the courts to pay YOU for the damage!

    What's needed, IMHO, for libel is an initial no-guilt assumption. BOTH sides present their claims, arguments and proofs on a TOTALLY level playing-field. To prevent one side or the other dominating, though, both sides should present exactly the same amount of "evidence". That way, large corporations can't simply swamp the case, as with the McDonald's case in the intro.

    IMHO, law will only mean anything when it ceases to be about money and starts to be about people.

    Oh, and lastly, for anyone who thinks British Law is too lenient ALL the time on the side of the "victims", who remembers the case of the former Eastenders actress? The judge ruled in favour of the tabloids (for once) on the grounds that he also had a dirty mind. IMHO, the tabloids escallated onto the national stage a trivial incident that may well have never occured, simply to sell papers and "shock" readers.

    IMHO, if they ban landmines, and want a place to dispose of them, places like the HQ's of The Sun, The Star, The Sport and The Daily Mirror spring to mind. Get rid of those obnoxious, depraved weapons AND the landmines at the same time.

  • I found a good Q&A about US libel law here: [].
    As I understand it, the main difference in US law is that it is very difficult for a public figure to sue for libel in the US since the defendant must be shown to have knowingly and maliciously made a false statement. For a private individual like Mr. Godfrey it seems to be quite similar to UK law.
  • That's just hooey.

    From Webster Online: censor: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable

    Since Slashdot does not do this (only volunteer moderators) at all, the site is not guilty of censorship. And since you can browse at -100 if you want, and get every post ever made, no one is enforcing any kind of censorship.

    To claim that Slashdot promotes censorship is like claiming that Siskel and Ebert are censoring movies they rate as "two thumbs down" (-2?). Since no one is stopping you from seeing the film anyhow, there is no censorship.

    : remove whitespace to e-mail me

  • On of the best stratagies in a game like this is generous tit for tat:

    1: Be nice to the other guy.
    2: Do unto them as was done unto you.

  • Who can escalate higher?

  • Yeah, I know - utterly irresponsible. But I've been soo good the last few months.[ST_rn=ap]/profile.xp?author =%22Dr.%20Laurence%20Godfrey%22%20%3claure

    Yuck. Don't like thos deja URLs.

  • Ooh some of his posts are just nasty. Maybe they are libelous. I wonder if his ISP should be notified of a potential legal action?

  • Gradwellregistered his domain: who are owned by Onyx Internet:

    However his posts seem to come from a number of places. Most recently from Planet Online (Freeserve?):

    Posting host: and


    Posting host:

    Email: and

    Seems very interested in the chances of catching HIV in Thailand?

    Ooh I am a bad bad person today.

  • No real substance required.

  • Make them post something that they later regret. They usually have absolutely no sense of humour. Hence the legal recourse.

  • Synonym for serial unfounded litigation?

  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:24PM (#1128553)
    I live and work here and I'd much much rather support a UK ISP than an American one but If UK ISP's are going to just buckle and not put pressure on government representatives because it's expedient then they must be punished financially.

    Move your sites off of UK hosted ISPs and tell them why you are doing this. Encourage others to do the same.

  • Anatoli wrote: Imagine that you have a video camera that looks down the street. It records everything it sees 24/7. You publish all the records. Now suppose somebody said something defamatory in front of this camera. Are you liable? Should you stop publishing this piece?

    Of course you're liable. You're the publisher.

    Which bit of "publishing" do you not understand?

    Libel isn't a free speech issue. It's about taking responsibility for your actions. If you publish lies knowingly (remember: Demon were warned several times) you should expect to get done for it.

    If you just take a whole bunch of unfiltered stuff (webcam output, letters, usenet messages, whatever) and publish them, that makes you responsible for them. FFS what is the problem here?

    Jeez, it's about time the Internet GREW UP!


  • boojum_uc wrote: Demon publishes nothing "knowingly" on its Usenet servers.

    Normally, that is the case. Normally, you would be correct. Normally, an ISP serves out thousands of messages from its Usenet servers every day and has no idea about the content of virtually any of those messages.

    But in this particular instance, Godfrey told Demon several times about the offending post.

    And it was on this point that the case hinged, and that is why Demon knew they'd never win in court.

    Demon knowingly published libellous material on its Usenet servers.

    Under English/Welsh law you can't just sue someone for libel out of the blue. You have to give the person a chance to withdraw/correct the offending message first. It's all about being "reasonable" (the word "reasonable" actually appears all the time in English/Welsh legislation). Because gor blimey gov, us Englishmen/Welshmen are very reasonable chaps, and suing someone for libel without giving them a chance to back down just wouldn't be cricket, eh Jeeves? Crikey, that wouldn't be fair play at all, gawd bless the Queen Mum.

    Godfrey gave Demon plenty of warning and plenty of chances. Demon stedfastly refused despite all those warnings and the message being obviously libellous (it wasn't a a borderline comment, there was no "ISP playing judge and jury" here, it was a clear cut libellous message).

    Demon didn't so much drop the ball, as drop it, have it offered back to them several times, and refused to take the ball back on each occasion.


  • Kabloie wrote: A 12-year old kid plops 'LG sux ballz' on the USENET. You are trying to tell me that he is now an author, with thousands of publishers (ISPs) around the world?

    (being 12 years old is too young to be done for libel, in the UK anyway).

    Getting published is a big deal

    You may think so, but English/Welsh law disagrees (and US law I suspect). You may think that the law is an ass, but that doesn't change the law.

    According to the law, handing out a photocopied flyer counts as publishing, and that makes authoring web pages or usenet messages positively complex by comparison.


  • Murmer wrote: Using the same transparently bullshit logic, every single newsstand an corner store in the world is a publisher.

    Legally, they ARE! The UK newsagent chains "WH Smiths" and "Sperrings" were sued for libel for stocking the satirical magazine "Private Eye". mp/Goldsmith.htm []

    I agree the law of libel is an ass. But it is still the law. If you knowingly carry libelous messages on a Usenet server you run, you are open to libel claims.

    We can all argue until the cows come home about whether this is good or bad, but that won't change the definition of libel.

    If you want to make up a new law called "murmer's new law" or whatever then feel free. But what you're talking about isn't libel, it's something else.


  • If we all started having anti Demon tag lines maybe they would soon pick that up on Usenet and think about the issue.
  • Well, are these rights granted by the government (and thus susceptible to being revoked) or are they inherent? That's the really big deal regarding the Bill of Rights in the states, anyway.
  • Quite right. "Your currency's abbreviation is GBP, not UKP" is what I should have said.
  • A 12-year old kid plops 'LG sux ballz' on the USENET. You are trying to tell me that he is now an author, with thousands of publishers (ISPs) around the world?

    I'm callin bullshit on you, AC guy/gal. Whatever you are. Getting published is a big deal, these people are basically publishing their own work, having paid a fee with an ISP. 19.95 a month and you have bought a publishing mechanism, but that does not make every ISP in the world your 'publisher'

    Yeah, Tony Blair is a disaster. He's as bad as our disaster on the other side of the drink. And we have at least 4 more years of guaranteed disaster coming up.

  • I am of the opinion that Lawrence Godfrey is a menace to society, and a stain upon the face of humanity.
    I can say this quite happily because I prefaced it with "I am of the opinion that" and no-one can sue you for stating your opinion as you're not saying anything is fact.
    This should calm some but sadly it is no solution.
    It is a fact that something needs to be done about libel law.
  • Hardly. This is a very relevant question to the whole UK libel issue. If I had moderator points I'd bring it back out of the moderation basement.
  • Actually he said: (Direct quote)

    "It is time to move beyond the social indifference of right and left, libertarian nonsense masquerading as freedom."

  • Leaving it is certainly an option. I am married to a Canadian and could fairly easily shift over therre. Canada has its problems (too much government for my liking, and rather high taxes) but Canadians generally seem optimistic, friendly, and positive. These are desirable qualities.

    I'd like to have at least an attempt at changing things a little first though. We need a constitution. We need to figure out what is and isn't a legitimate task of Government. We need to have the Great Tax Debate. We need to have a political party that actually champions inherent freedoms as a policy.

  • Britain is a broken country.

    We are an envious, unimaginative, reactive, bigotted, bitter society. We do not reward success; rather we punish it. We do not understand ideas of freedom and self-expression, but we attack their proponents bitterly.

    Perhaps this goes some way to explaining how this situation has arisen. Very few people in Britain will be concerned about this; the idea that the free exchange of ideas will be curtailed doesn't disturb them. The notion that expressing a controversial opinion might be impossible carries no fear. After all, normal people don't have such ideas or opinions. And the greatest crime in Britain is to be other than the normal?

    And what is normal? For a start, you should live in a small, pokey house. You should work for a large company, but you shouldn't care about your job too much. You should buy the Sun each day, and closely follow stories about the Queen Mother's health (Gawd bless'er!). You should have absolutely know understanding or interest in science. You should regard with suspicion anyone who does.

    You should subscribe to Sky Sports. But definitely not Film Four.

    You should have not-quite-enough money, but you should resent those who have more. You should distrust the Internet and believe "something must be done" about it - even though you've never used it.

    In short, you are bitter, boring, suspicious, reactive, a sheep, and a hypocrite. You are also, sad to say, pretty stupid. Most importantly, you never let your lack of knowledge on a particular subject cloud your judgement.

    In a country full of people like this, people who basically don't believe that other people deserve freedom, is it any suprise that our politicians and laws and judges show the same prejudices? Who could expect better than them?

    Last thing (thanks for reading this long!):

    Tony Blair, our esteemed leader, recently used the phrase "libertarian nonsense". Now, not everyone is a commited no-compromise libertarian, but I'm sure that everyone knows that the opposite of "libertarian" is "authoritarian". That word, "authoritarian", sums up exactly which way Britain is going. And I'm going elsewhere.. any suggestions?

  • You say common carriers are required to server everyone, not just their customers -- how do phone companies and ISPs differ? Both can cancel service for non-payment, both have to accept all incoming calls.

  • I myself wouldn't mind the moderation nearly so much if it didn't allow really small people to further their really small interests by punishing those with something productive to say.

    Perhaps Im being a bit extreme here as well, but I dont generally find posts about hot grits or Natalie Portman to be particularly productive...

  • ... bullshit walk.

    Just move your servers outsite of the U.K.

    That's all.


  • ISPs in the USA are not common carriers. The FCC has intentionally refrained from classifying ISPs as common carriers. A common carrier is required, by law, to serve everyone, not just the customers that they wish to do business with.
  • You say common carriers are required to server everyone, not just their customers -- how do phone companies and ISPs differ?

    If the "Americans for the Legalization of Drugs, Terrorism and Child Pornography" opens an office, the telephone company must provide them service, assuming that they have the money for the security deposit and monthly bills. An ISP can refuse to provide them service or can terminate service, without having to give a reason.

  • I can't believe someone modded the above message up as "insightful". Even if the thought behind it is sound, the presentation is full of invective and needless derogatory remarks.

    It is possible (and more effective) to criticize without the personal attacks.
  • I wouldn't say that telling offensive jokes is a "right." We all enjoy it sometimes, of course, but you have to think about context. If you tell a racist or sexist joke, think about who's going to be offended. Offensive jokes are...offensive. It's not an issue of free speech, but one of politeness.
  • You're right, in that we shouldn't criticize each other for living in countries with bad laws that none of us had anything to do with. However, I wouldn't say that the NRA is equivalent to the ACLU. The NRA is a special-interest group with a dubious interpretation of the Second Amendment (the Amendment recommends a "well-regulated militia," which is the National Guard, and anyway, guns were much less powerful 211 years ago). The ACLU is a legitimate, non-special-interest group that really does defend people's rights, not their desire to be able to explode deer and 9-year-olds into 470,702,342 little pieces.
  • I usually find myself fairly clouded by Ethnocentrism, and don't remember that not everyone has a first amendment.

    Britain's main problem vis-a-vis rights isn't that they don't have a right to free speech (the US Constitution's 1st Ammendment), it's that they don't have a constitution at all and hence no guarantee of rights whatsoever. They're ruled entirely on the basis of parliament and common law. Many Americans forget that this division of political thought is a significant reason why America fought the British for independence.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Those little words from the Declaration of Independence echo the core politico-philosophical difference between the Americans and the British -- equality and liberty are inalienable rights endowed to us by our creator and that men created Governemnt to protect those rights.

    Americans believe in their rights and their constitution that guarantees them. The British just trust their government, and they end up with stuff like the Official Secrets Act, arbitrary detention, censorship and what have you.
  • Now which is it, This is whyan unwriten constiution is better[sic] or Our system of government does have a constiution, and a written one to boot, it's split over many, many documents?

    I get the same argument from my British friends every time I ask them about this. At first they argue about how the British 'written' constitution is there, it's just spread all over a bunch of documents. And then they have a few more drinks, start complaining about American gun ownership, and then tell me what a virtue an unwritten constitution is because its so much easier to change.

    I don't see the virtue in either, personally. I want my rights laid out in front of me unequivocally in a single document, and I don't want them easy to change. I want them very, very difficult to change so that the whims of the leadership can't "fix" them.
  • Why should I have to twiddle with the URL to be able to see posts that were actually moderated up? Why would someone even think that they'd have to do such a thing, except for those that happen to see this discussion? When I set my threshold higher, I do it so that I can quickly see the posts that were moderated up. I think that's everyone's expectation, so for Slashdot to force some posts to be -2 even when moderators score them up, well, it doesn't seem too kosher.

    Maybe they could put up a disclaimer that says something along the lines of "Even if you set your threshold, you will still not be able to see certain posts, no matter how favorably they were moderated. >Click here< for quickie instructions on how to see those posts."

    But free speech is the right to say what you want; not the right to be heard anyway.

    If this is really the Slashdot line of thinking, can we please see an end to the countless stories on things like CyberPatrol? (I'm sure you've seen them before, they're all posted with the icon of the guy with his mouth taped shut.) After all, they don't keep any web sites from saying what they want, they just keep them from being heard by CyberPatrol's paying customers.


  • I'm definitely no fan of the royalty, but it just amazes me how Blair and his Third Way bullshit comrades want the U.K. to be dragged down by all the socialist baggage of the E.U. Do most of your countrymen really support this idiocy? Not that Clinton wouldn't be trying the same thing if he thought he could get away with it...

    Great post.


  • by Zico ( 14255 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:52PM (#1128579)

    I totally disagree, because taking away freedoms is a slippery slope. Everyone's always quick to tell us how teensy-weensy their particular form of censorship is -- "No comparison at all to muzzling the people!" they exclaim.

    But then, years later, a freedom lost here, a freedom lost there, ho-hum, it all adds up. Then when you bother to reflect upon it, you see just how far the bar has moved. Remember how silly and innocuous those "1001 Tasteless Jokes" books used to be when you were a kid? Try telling one of the "blonde" jokes in there at your average university these days, and if you're lucky, someone won't overhear you and you won't be dragged in front of the student judicial board on charges of sexism. If you don't think that your freedoms have eroded over the years, and worse, if you think that it only happens in "Big Story" cases that you hear about, rather than a gradual erosion over time due to tiny things you never even thought twice about, you just haven't been paying attention.


  • by Zico ( 14255 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:11PM (#1128580)

    The way that some posters' writings are automatically shoved to -2, even when marked up by moderators, Slashdot seems to be engaging in a double standard when they rail against censorship.

    The bottom line is that it's mighty easy to wave the free speech flag, but pretty meaningless if you aren't willing to stick up for it, even in cases whereby it negatively affects you.


  • As I understand it, in the US, ISPs enjoy "common carrier" status, and so are not responsible for the content on their servers. If you want to sue someone, you sue the author, if you can find them... In the UK, ISPs have been ruled to be more akin to publishers, who are fair game for legal action under our libel laws.


  • You might not have wanted the Quake servers; many others (including myself) did, and do. I doubt your tenner would exactly make a big contribution to any of their bills anyway. :)
  • any suggestions?
    hm.... well, given that the US is going to soon be governed by either Gore or Bush, that's out (talk about a no-win situation); I hear Canada's nice -- if you don't mind the chill; and I *still* hear people talking about Singapore. Anyone else have any ideas?

  • An island on the internet, if you will, where nobody dares say anything about anyone else - or if they do, they prudently take their speech (and their money) offshore.

    Well, isn't it one of the wonders the net brought us? If your country doesn't let you express yourself, you can still do it easily from another one and yet reach the same audience.

    IMHO, it's only a matter of time before major British sites start migrating to offshore ISPs. After that is done, maybe the ISPs will start lobbying their MPs to change that stupid libel law because it harms their profitability. Hey, that's how it works nowadays... Your average Joe Government doesn't give a fsck about freedom of speech as long as he makes good business. Watch the USA and China... Who cares about freedom when you have a 1+ Billion potential customers...who might actually get forced to buy your stuff.

    Humans really start making me puke sometimes.


  • Of course, we have to fight. But being able to express yourself from the outside while fighting from the inside can really save us, methinks.
  • by Ratface ( 21117 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:58PM (#1128588) Homepage Journal
    Another part of this problem in the UK is due to the laws surrounding who is and who isn't considered a publisher. As far as I understand it, in a libel suit, it's both the writer and the publisher who can be sued.

    Now why (you might ask) has an ISP been sued in that case? Well, the answer is that in the UK a precedent was set a long time ago that in libel cases concerning traditional paper published material the publisher is considered to be the writer, the publisher, the distributor and the retail outlet that sells the material!

    Yup - any of those people can be sued for libel in a book or magazine.

    So of course, it was a natural progression that an ISP would be considered a publisher in this case, as opposed to being a common carrier like the postal service. I remember about 5 years ago a similar debate regarding whether ISP's would have to check all the content found on bulletin boards on their sites. There was a lot of pressure for ISP's to never check anything on their sites so that they could be considered common carriers. However it seems that these days, ISP's have lost the fight and can now be held responsible for information found on their servers. Which level this could be taken to is kinda chilling - does information passing through a server (email for instance) also count as published material?

    Unfortunately, the UK has a bunch of very restrictive laws surrounding freedom of speech. Civil liberties have been gradually eroded over the last 20 years, so that nowadays there is no real "right to silence", you can be easily prosecuted for importation of "obscene" material and now you cannot air free speech on a web server.

    I for one am glad I moved to Sweden - which has it's own problems, but seems more open than the post Thatcher UK.

    "Give the anarchist a cigarette"
  • I think there's a fairly clear line between /. rating posts, and people being sued for posting what is often simply the truth.

    It's very misleading and emotive to try to load the two into the same barrow, the barrow which you are pushing so enthusiastically here...


  • This sounds more like a description of what the tabloids believe the UK population to be. Its the tabloid newspapers that engineer public beliefs and then use populist rhetoric to maintain public support. See they're racist campaign against asylum seekers as an example.

    Sadly, we can`t pile all the blame onto the tabloids. They wouldn`t print things if people didn`t buy them. And people tend to read only what reflects the views they`ve made already. So the tabloids are only reflecting the thought processes of their readers.


  • by PigleT ( 28894 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:19PM (#1128593) Homepage
    You can't even post as a followup to something demon decide to mark as defamatory these days, because they're trying to censor "links" ie References: headers. Have a look at another report [] on what's going off.
    I used to be with Demon as an ISP - I gave up a few months ago because they squandered my UKP10/month on quake servers without asking whether I wanted them or not - I don't! In the process of leaving I sent a mail saying "I'm off, because I don't like this" and got a stupid mail back asking why... 'nuff said! Glad to be out, now.

    At the moment the UK is not looking like a good place to stay. I think the RIP bill working its way through parliament is an evil abomination (basically escrow to screw the nation over some poxy criminals - and Jack Straw expected me to believe this!), and with censorship on the rise as well... you can hardly say we're one of the 'Net's leading countries, can you?
    .|` Clouds cross the black moonlight,

  • ISP's have lost the fight and can now be held responsible for information found on their servers. Only after they know it is there. The theory is that if you knowingly publish defamatory information then you are contributing to the damage done, and hence should be liable along with everyone else doing the same thing. OTOH if you merely carry a stack of books to a bookshop with no knowledge of their contents then you are not liable.

    Accordingly, ISPs are only liable for distribution which happens after they have been informed of the defamation. Once they are aware of it they can take a decision, based on the facts, as to whether to carry on distributing the information or to pull it.

    In practice of course the ISPs are in no position to make such a decision, and have to pull almost anything that anyone complains about in simple self defence.

    It could be worse though. AIUI bookshops are assumed to be aware of every word in every book they sell, and hence are liable for damage done even before they have been notified. ISPs have escaped this fate, but it was a close thing.


  • by Paul Johnson ( 33553 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:10PM (#1128595) Homepage
    Whilst I agree that the libel law situation here is dumb, its not actually having much effect on the web. Saying that UK libel law makes the Internet "the easiest medium to censor ever" is certainly overstating it. The Slashdot article itself said that the solution for targetted sites is easy: just up sticks and move to the US. You may need a new URL (and your old ISP won't host a pointer because that makes it part of the publication), but thats the only real problem. Apart from that, its just a matter of juristiction shopping.

    Of course the site authors are still just as vulnerable to lawsuits as ever, but in practice the plaintiff has to find them first. If you go to a US host in the first place then that would mean extracting customer records from the US company.

    Overall its the same old mechanism: censorship is damage, so route around it.


  • by / ( 33804 )
    In the (US) deep south, the government rarely killed any black men itself, but it sure did a good job of fostering a lynch-mob mentality among its citizens who did the dirty work for it. It's an extreme, but analogous situation, at least structurally.

    I myself wouldn't mind the moderation nearly so much if it didn't allow really small people to further their really small interests by punishing those with something productive to say.

    In order to prove defamation, you have to be able to prove that what was said or written about you was false.

    That is the crucial difference between the US and the UK for non-public figures. In the US you have to prove that it was false, in the UK the other party has to prove that it was true.

    This seems to be the same thing, but it is very different. Suppose the debatable point was "You were not in Paris last Saturday" (believe it or not, a recent notorious case depended on this very point). For you to prove that is false (i.e. that you were in Paris) is easy: Plane tickets, hotel receipts, credit cards, subway tickets, etc. For the defendent to prove that you weren't in Paris is very difficult (as proving a negative often is).

  • by pmc ( 40532 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:00PM (#1128600) Homepage
    I don't see how changing the libel laws will change anything.

    There are several problems with libel laws as they stand.

    1.) The burden of proof (as the article said) is on the defendant. This is a bad thing. To take a recent example The Sunday Times lost a libel case recent when they rubbished a book claiming Trimble was a member of a secret conspiracy group called "The Crucible". Why did they lose? Well, how can you prove that someone isn't a member of a secret consiracy group?

    2.) The costs are insane. In the Godfrey case he got 15kGBP in damages - the lawyers got an estimated 500kGBP in fees. This also gives some insight as to why the lawyers aren't keen on changing them :(

    3.) The damages are based on whether something is likely to damage your reputation - not by how much your repuation has been damaged.

    All in all not a good situation. In the US I believe there is a requirement to show malice before it can be considered libel - in the UK the most innoucous statement can be considered libellous if it is not factually correct even if the person making the statement believes it to be true. Truth is not a surefire defence either - more accurate would be "Truth that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and which was not published with the intent to reduce a persons reputation."

  • In short, you are bitter, boring, suspicious, reactive, a sheep, and a hypocrite. You are also, sad to say, pretty stupid. Most importantly, you never let your lack of knowledge on a particular subject cloud your judgement.

    Being a bit harsh on HM country, aren't you?

    There are a lot of better things in the UK versus US. The news, for example. BBC news is the best. In the US we get to watch 30 minutes of news with 8 minutes of commercials so each "story" is a quick 30 second sound bite and that's it. Plus out of that 22 minutes, you get "hollywood entertainment" news for about 5 minutes.

    I always considered the social conscience on many issues higher in UK than US. For example, when visiting there in '96, there was a ton of news about injustices in Nigera and calls for boycotts against Shell "petrol" while in the U.S. I didn't hear one blessed word about the issue. In the U.S., all news is national unless it directly affects us in some way.

    Yeah, UK sucks in a lot of ways, including the high taxes and that everyone is sucking on the government tit. I went to a small town council's offices while visiting and picked up a ton of leaflets on all the programs and benefits one can get. It's no wonder taxes are so high, there's a benefit for everyone in there! But still, as they say, the grass is greener on the other side. You at least have a choice re: web pages. Get served from another country. It's a way to leave the mother country without getting a visa! :)

  • it's not censorship though. it's only censorship if the posts are automatically unreadable by anyone. True, you need to do a little foolery to read at -2, but you can. It's just as easy to point the finger of hypocracy as it is to support free speech. And I think /. does a good job of providing a forum for free speech, not just preaching it. Hell, it even gives JonKatz a home ;-)

    Yeah, there are some problems with the moderation system. I've seen cases like you mention where a post is modded up and still in the negatives. But free speech is the right to say what you want; not the right to be heard anyway.
  • . . . we're BOTH actually ON TOPIC?!?!?!? What the hell is up with that!!!

    next thing you know I'll get a significant amount of non+1funny karma. *shudders* ;-)
  • for Slashdot to force some posts to be -2 even when moderators score them up, well, it doesn't seem too kosher

    I'm not disagreeing with that. The problem is the system's messed a little right now. But the big difference is that they're not misrepresenting it; they're just not acknowledging it. The CyberPatrol etc. deal is that they're claiming to do one thing (blocking porn) and doing another (blocking educationally valuable sites). Quite frankly I don't feel vehemently about either (other than mandatory censoring in libraries) because NO system is perfect.

    Perhaps the disclaimer is the right way to go.
  • I've seen some posters equate ISPs with publishers. To them I say, B.S.

    To state that a Usenet server is a "publisher", implicitly assumes that an individual has no right at all to be seen or heard by more than one person without sponsorship by a third party, and that an individual Usenet server acts as such a third party. Also assumed is a notion that "the public" does not have a right to obtain information that is not scrubbed by a third party.

    There are two responsibilities for any Internet server, be it Gopher, WWW, or Usenet, and those responsibilities are uptime and response time, in that order.

    Usenet, in particular, is a forum. It is not a publisher, nor are any of its member servers, nor are any of its myriad clients.

    I wonder though, If one can send Usenet-wide kill requests, is it possible to filter such requests?
  • But I don't know the exact nature of the suit. It would appear that plaintiff is filing to prevent the information from being seen by usenet clients that connect to the ISP's server. (I guess he's never heard of Deja, or Deja's next on the suing list). If he's filing to prevent the spread of posts "originating" from that server, well, as you've described, it's probably a little bit late.
  • And I'm going elsewhere.. any suggestions?
    An old joke. So this guy wants to emigrate out of his totalitaruan country. The KGB person in charge shows him a globe and explains what's bad about each of his potential destinations. US: high crime rate. Israel: permanent war. NZ: it's booooring. Soon all countries are ruled out. The guy asks: Do you have another globe?

    I'm afraid your best option is Mars. Failing that, check out Canada. I've never been there, but from what I hear it's less evil than pretty much everything else.

  • If you run a Usenet server, you are publishing.
    People argue that this is bad. Running Usenet server should not be considered publishing.

    Imagine that you have a video camera that looks down the street. It records everything it sees 24/7. You publish all the records.

    Now suppose somebody said something defamatory in front of this camera. Are you liable? Should you stop publishing this piece?

    I believe that the answer should be "no" in both cases. You record events that are beyond your control. If somebody doesn't like the event, it doesn't mean he has a right to erase impartial records about it.

    Running a Usenet server is akin to recording history of events: who said what, and when. Erasing history is...well, erasing history. 1984, anyone?

  • Which bit of "publishing" do you not understand?
    Gutenberg invented his printing press thingy a long, long time ago. Things have changed.

    At that time it was impossible to publish things impartially and indiscriminately. Now people do this all the time. Activity of this kind is so different from traditional publishing, it really deserves a new name.

    Impartial, indiscriminate publishing should be immune from libel suits.

  • by anatoli ( 74215 ) on Monday April 17, 2000 @12:56AM (#1128619) Homepage
    in Five Easy Steps!
    1. Write a "generate-libel-about-myself" script
    2. Write a "get-next-hotmail-account" script
    3. Write a "post-the-libel-to-random-usenet-group" script that would use the hotmail account from step 2 and libel from step 1
    4. Run everything from an offshore account at 1000 libels per day rate
    5. Sue!

  • The following is excerpted from a limited distribution article I wrote in 1982 when I was the manager of interactive architectures for the precursor to IBM's Prodigy network. At that time, the word "videotex" was being used to describe mass market information services such as we see today:


    The question at hand is this: How do we mold the early videotex environment so that noise is suppressed without limiting the free flow of information between customers?

    The first obstacle is, of course, legal. As the knights of U.S. feudalism, corporate lawyers have a penchant for finding ways of stomping out innovation and diversity in any way possible. In the case of videotex, the attempt is to keep feudal control of information by making videotex system ownership imply liability for information transmitted over it. For example, if a libelous communication takes place, corporate lawyers for the plaintiff will bring suit against the carrier rather than the individual responsible for the communication. The rationalizations for this clearly unreasonable and contrived position are quite numerous. Without a common carrier status, the carrier will be treading on virgin ground legally and thus be unprotected by precedent. Indeed, the stakes are high enough that the competitor could easily afford to fabricate an event ideal for the purposes of such a suit. This means the first legal precedent could be in favor of holding the carrier responsible for the communications transmitted over its network, thus forcing (or giving an excuse for) the carrier to inspect, edit and censor all communications except, perhaps, simple person-to-person or "electronic mail". This, in turn, would put editorial control right back in the hands of the feudalists. Potential carriers' own lawyers are already hard at work worrying everyone about such a suit. They would like to win the battle against diversity before it begins. This is unlikely because videotex is still driven by technology and therefore by pioneers.

    The question then becomes: How do we best protect against such "legal" tactics? The answer seems to be an early emphasis on secure identification of the source of communications so that there can be no question as to the individual responsible. This would preempt an attempt to hold the carrier liable. Anonymous communications, like Delphi conferencing, could even be supported as long as some individual would be willing to attach his/her name to the communication before distributing it. This would be similar, legally, to a "letters to the editor" column where a writer remains anonymous. Another measure could be to require that only individuals of legal age be allowed to author publishable communications. Yet another measure could be to require anyone who wishes to write and publish information on the network to put in writing, in an agreement separate from the standard customer agreement, that they are liable for any and all communications originating under their name on the network. This would preempt the "stolen password" excuse for holding the carrier liable.

    Beyond the secure identification of communication sources, there is the necessity of editorial services. Not everyone is going to want to filter through everything published by everyone on the network. An infrastructure of editorial staffs is that filter. In exchange for their service the editorial staff gets to promote their view of the world and, if they are in enough demand, charge money for access to their list of approved articles. On a videotex network, there is little capital involved in establishing an editorial staff. All that is required is a terminal and a file on the network which may have an intrinsic cost as low as $5/month if it represents a publication with "only" around 100 articles. The rest is up to the customers. If they like a publication, they will read it. If they don't they won't. A customer could ask to see all articles approved by staffs A or B inclusive, or only those articles approved by both A and B, etc. This sort of customer selection could involve as many editorial staffs as desired in any logical combination. An editorial staff could review other editorial staffs as well as individual articles, forming hierarchies to handle the mass of articles that would be submitted every day. This sort of editorial mechanism would not only provide a very efficient way of filtering out poor and questionable communications without inhibiting diversity, it would add a layer of liability for publications that would further insulate carriers from liability and therefore from a monopoly over communications.

    In general, anything that acts to filter out bad information and that is not under control of the carrier, acts to prevent the carrier from monopolizing the evolution of ideas on the network.


  • And I'm going elsewhere.. any suggestions?
    After having lived in France (born there), Britain, The Netherlands and a bit Germany, I can tell you that what you described applies perfectly well to all these countries but France. The Netherlands which is seen as a libertarian country is incredibly conservative and boring (no wonder people take drugs there), Germany is even worse. France has got different problems, but at least people are ready to get up in arms and strike for any good (or more often than not bad) reasons, which in general has got no effect what so ever. In short, there are no ideal countries.
    So, good luck.

  • by geeklawyer ( 85727 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:46PM (#1128632) Homepage Journal
    yes, i know I say it everytime: IAAL. In fact a defendant does NOT have to show the literal truth of every allegation made. What must be shown is that the sting of the accusation is true. That is, if I say you have 15 convictions for theft but in fact you have only 14 you will not succeed in a claim for defamation merely because I accused you of one more conviction than you actually had. (legal authority for this assertion: Edwards v Bell in a case in 1824, and still good law).

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday April 17, 2000 @03:32AM (#1128635) Homepage Journal
    Just because every idiot on the planet is allowed to say something doesn't mean I have to listen to him. If I browse at +2, I can be pretty sure that every post I read will be on topic and not wasting my time. If I browse at -2, I can be pretty sure that about 90% of the posts are going to be offtopic, a waste of my time, and generally incoherent.

    Arguing that I am obligated to listen to those idiots and branding me a hypocrite if I don't is quite stupid. Do you read spam thoroughly? Do you read the entirety of usenet every day unfiltered? By your argument if you don't, you're denying all those people their freedom of speech.

  • Aren't we discussing potentially libelous things here on Slashdot? Aren't some of our participants native to or living in the United Kingdom?

    Won't they sue Slashdot for libel against libel??

    Rami James
    Pixel Pusher
    ALST R&D Center, IL
  • by briancarnell ( 94247 ) on Monday April 17, 2000 @12:34AM (#1128641) Homepage
    Where do you people come up with this stuff? Prefacing statments with "I am of the opinion of" doesn't lend them any less potentially libelous at all (your statement is not likely libelous because it is so vague -- try saying "I am of the opinion that Lawrence Godfrey is a child molester" and see how far that defense gets you if he tries to sue).
  • Normally you have to manually add &threshold=-2 or whatever to the URL to see those posts, but this [] post tells you how to do it permanently with a little hacking. Then you can browse all of the posts, even the "/. censored" ones.

  • I think that Rob et al. are making some changes to the Slash code in order to allow for some anti-spam measures. The reason I think is that April 20 is coming up, the anniversary of Columbine, and it threatens to become a complete spam-fest. The account being pushed to -2 on all posts is one way of quickly "removing" a lot of spam - there's also a maximum no. of posts per day based on IP address in place now as well.

  • They read the Daily Mail, a newspaper that is so sensationalist and narrow minded that it seems unable to post any other frontpage story apart from 'Justice Being Done' and the 'Waste of Taxpayers Money'

    Agreed. There's a fake TV program at TV Go Home [] where people are stranded on a desert island with no news except for the Daily Mail, and it takes the piss out of the bigoted trash that it produces on a daily basis. IMHO it is the single worst paper in this country since it attempts to be a "serious" paper whilst being full of the most BS ever.

    Britain is a nation of winging penny pinchers. The average man in the street reads the Daily Mail, has 2.2 children and gets a new car every year or so. He lives in his shoebox house and doesn't think that the matter of censorship really has any effect to him.

    True, but also not true. It depends on what part of society you're talking about. The younger generation is a lot less like this, and change will come slowly (as ever) when these people who have grown up with things like the net eventually get into positions where things can change. However, the national apathy will most likely prevent anything radical from happening - expect a slow osmosis of change at best.

  • How does the European Convention on Human Rights [] affect this? IIRC it's been signed into law here in the UK, but I'm not sure what effects it has on the situation. I think Article 10 is the important one, and Articles 17 and 18 as well, but our DNS server is down here at I can't provide a better link or look at it. Thanks.

  • by spiralx ( 97066 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:57PM (#1128648)

    We are an envious, unimaginative, reactive, bigotted, bitter society. We do not reward success; rather we punish it. We do not understand ideas of freedom and self-expression, but we attack their proponents bitterly.

    Well, having lived in the UK all of my life I know where you're coming from with this rant, but I think you're overstating it, and I definitely think you're bitter about something ;)

    What you're describing does exist certainly, it's what is affectionately known as "Middle England". But it's not all of the country by any means, and to say it is isn't fair to the many people who aren't like that. Britian has a problem with people like this, but so does practically every country in the Western world.

    The unfortunate thing about Britain is the general apathy which we have. There are very few people who are willing to do something about issues (whatever they may be), and people don't care about things which don't directly affect them. This is probably the worst thing we have as a nation, and the reason why things like this occur.

    In short, you are bitter, boring, suspicious, reactive, a sheep, and a hypocrite. You are also, sad to say, pretty stupid. Most importantly, you never let your lack of knowledge on a particular subject cloud your judgement.

    Okay, this is just over the top, a rediculous generalisation and all round flamebait. Not everyone is the same, and not everyone is like this. It certainly doesn't help any when stereotypes like this are brought out.

  • I'm not even sure how I *want* libel law to work.
    If someone spreads the rumour that I'm a paedophiliac (sp?) I'd like a proper legal tool to defend myself with. OTOH, I don't want to consult a lawyer every time I open my big mouth.

    I'll give you a quick non-lawyer translation of swedish law (as found by google) here just to get another example:

    • If you [call] someone a criminal, [...] or otherwise leave information aimed to cause harm to that person you are guilty of [libel/slander?] and sentenced to a fine or in serious cases prison to a maximum of two years.
    • If you are obliged to give that information, or if circumstances otherwise makes it justifiable, or if the information can be proved to be true or if you had reasonable cause to believe it was true, you have no liability.

    Point here: The law said nothing about damages. It can't be used as a Make Money Fast-sceme.

    If you are facing a libel/slander lawsuit, you risk merely a fine, not huge damages. (yeah there is a possibility of prison, but then it would *really* have to be serious. like an evil FUD department knowingly spreading rumours of health hazards using a competitors product)

  • How could the moderation system on /. be called censorship when you or I or any of our ever so entertaining Trolls may read or not read what they want? Besides the fact that Rob et all do not in fact "censor" but the /. readers have that pleasure. Personally, I never read anything below a 1, unless I want a good giggle and for some insane reason feel the need to see if anyone is pouring hot grits down their pants. But it is you and I who would be the censors of /. if you moderate as I do.

    IMHO all those who wish to post idiocy and/or flame /. should be allowed to do so to their hearts content. But by the same token, I and others who generally have no intention to read it should be allowed to have a means not to.

    But then again... what do I know. I'm going back to picking my nose.


  • It unlikely we'll see any change to libel laws in the UK in the near future.

    What is more likely is that we'll see a similar change in use of language that the media undertook after a number of libel challenges.

    The trick is to avoid explicit statements like: Person x is y and use I believe person x is y or It is my personal opinion that x is y. Similarly Company x did y becomes Company x allegedly did y or It has been alleged that....

    The above changes to semantics convert statement of fact to personal belief (which is non-libellous), or (the second group) deflect responsibility for the statement.
  • As a Brit I agree that we need to change our laws. I was wondering if anyone could enlighten me as to the alternatives.

    The U.K. needs to wise up and bring its libel law into the 20th century, or its citizens will quickly find themselves inhabiting a Bland Speech Zone.

    While this is possibly true, the author ought to offer exactly what the 20th (21st?) Century of libel law is.

    How, for instance, does American law handle libel - I assume it works in a way that is more baised toward freedom of speech, but so far I haven't seen any posts which explain clearly how.

    This isn't intended as a flame, just as a question, and hopefully someone will reply with IAAL and not just IANAL.

  • by boojum_uc ( 122395 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @10:37PM (#1128667)
    As I understand it, part of the problem when you have to prove a statement you've made true is that you have to provide primary sources of evidence-- i.e., documentary evidence and/or witness statements. Furthermore, the person suing for libel does not have to demonstrate that damage has been suffered. The plaintiff is also not required to release evidence that may aid the case of the defendents. (So as I understand it, if-- for example-- phone records of the plaintiff would strengthen the defense-- they may not demand that the plaintiff turn them over.)

    The burden of proof is solely on the defendent. And, obviously, if you can't use (for instance) other publications to back up your statement (not primary evidence) then it's hugely expensive to defend.

    Directly following the death of Diana, the attempts to reform the libel law got hopelessly confused and bogged down into calls for the right to privacy for public figures.

    People regularly take advantage of the fact that British libel law is so repressive to go after people and companies who would be untouchable in other countries. This effect will (I think) magnify now.

  • by gengee ( 124713 ) <> on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:12PM (#1128668)
    While I consider myself a staunch libertarian, and agree with most all opinions already voiced here, I do find prudence with libel laws in general.

    Freedom to speak one's mind is a self-evident necessity in a free society. However, we must have laws to protect persons and corporations from false information.

    In a world without Libel and Slander laws, the BBC, a trusted news organization, could insist a corporation, say a meat processing plant, had a policy of adding human flesh to their ground beef, for the addictive properties found in Human flesh. News outlets around the world would carry the story and millions of people around the would believe it. One can easily say that the best way to fight speech, or writings, is with more of the same. However, the corporation which has been libeled should have legal recourse to collect damages, if any can be proven.

    The problem with this law however is that damages do not have to be shown. It is also unfair to expect an ISP with 10 million users to filter through and edit 30 million Usenet posts a day. It is /not/ possible.

    It also is /not/ possible to remove a post to Usenet once it has gone through. So the clause in the law, giving the ISP time to respond to an alert and remove the defamatory remark is mute.

    In this case their is a clear right and wrong. The law has failed. And should be fixed. This is where intent comes in. If an organization has intended to libel and individual or corporation, they should be punished. If they can prove that they had ample reason to believe they were not defaming the person or corporation, they should not be held accountable. There are times, however, where this law could serve its purpose.

    Don't get me wrong; The law should be re-written. It has far too many amiguities and no intent clause. But it should not be killed outright.

    signature smigmature
  • Rather than descend into the 'I agree' bit here, I do. (Doh!)

    I live in the South East of England. Each day, I see millions of people trying to break their necks to get into work. They read the Daily Mail, a newspaper that is so sensationalist and narrow minded that it seems unable to post any other frontpage story apart from 'Justice Being Done' and the 'Waste of Taxpayers Money'.

    Britain is a nation of winging penny pinchers. The average man in the street reads the Daily Mail, has 2.2 children and gets a new car every year or so. He lives in his shoebox house and doesn't think that the matter of censorship really has any effect to him. Unfortunately, he is wrong. He also thinks that his is powerless to change things that he doesn't agree with. The infringement of civil liberties starts this way, by breaking the spirit of the people so that they don't care any more. Tony Blairs government has a policy aimed at creating 'normality'. It doesn't want people who are different, have different things to say, or want to different things. We should all do the same things, at the same time.

    I'm an IT contractor that works in Central London. I am stared at like some sort of freak because I have long hair and I wear bright purple shoes to work. Is that really a big deal ? London likes to think of itself as a somewhat Cosmopolitan city. Rubbish. It's more narrow minded than you think. The current climate regarding censorship is not really a surprise. "Let's pull the plug on what we don't agree with"

    It is also amusing to think that Tony Blair tried to say (before being elected in) that they had a fair and consistent ethical/humanitarian policy. Is free speech not a basic right in itself ? In the last year or so, many of the governments policies have made a bit of a mockery of this. The bill regarding encryption and "handing over the keys" is a classic example.

    In the same way that consumers can vote with their feet if they don't like the way companies behave, Web-Masters can do exactly the same. I am considering moving my site to servers hosted in another country, preferably not European. I would encourage others to do the same. When it harms British business, the government will take notice and modernise. Eventually.

  • With the typical /. readers skills in computers, coupled with a shortage of skilled programmers in China, I'd suggest that everyone moves to China and tries to get a job working for the censorship organisations. Obviously as a censor, you would require unprohibited access to the internet, and there are no restrictions as to what you put on a site as far as copyright goes.
  • the publisher is considered to be the writer, the publisher, the distributor and the retail outlet that sells the material!

    Yup. Seems kind of stupid when put to the logical extreme though. If ISP X is a publisher, then so is their upstream provider. Since there is no central point of distribution on the internet (Well, there's LINX, but not all traffic goes through there), it would be possible to sue your own provider for distribution of a site on a totally different server. Now, could you sue yourself under the same laws?
  • And as we all know, libel is the crime of publishing untrue defamatory statements.

    Demon committed libel

    not quite. Libel is, as you say, the crime of publishing untrue defamatory statements.

    Under UK law the defendant is innocent until proved guilty.

    Corollary - the defendant cannot be said to have definitely committed the crime until a court has established guilt. in fast, to say that the defendant has definitely committed a crime before conviction is, recursively enough, libellous.

    In the Demon case, it has not been established that

    1. a crime of libel was committed at all, or that
    2. Demon are guilty of the crime of libel in the case of Laurence Godfrey.
    The part of this case that really concerns me is that ISP's now feel that they have to act as the cliched 'judge jury and executioner' as soon as libel is alleged. The Outcast incident reported here recently is a case in point. Judge and Jury (we don't have executioners anymore) are legally defined positions, and ISP's really ought to be able to refuse point blank to take on such a role


  • Despite Britain's seeming unwillingness to change their antiquated laws, if the large corporations start to get hurt from this terrible libel system they can apply far more pressure than the common man. Money is more important to most politicians than nearly anything else and the large companies who control this flow of money could end up being reform's greatest ally.
  • 1) Well I AM Welsh so I will answer your comments for the AC - but my family comes from Europe, Poland in fact ;-0> . Those funds are because Wales is officialy bi-lingual - WELSH AND ENGLISH. Thats the way it should be. Your countries official language and a language for Europe.

    2) Some Welsh do not speak English as a first language. In fact 20% of people speak Welsh, with increasing numbers every year. There are areas of North Wales which are still Welsh monoglot.

    Are they to be forcibly re-educated? No - but give them a choice.

    Welsh is becoming a regrown language again after the near destruction of it as a spoken language. I can speak from experience here as a dysgwr/learner.

    However that wasn't the point. The point was the arrogance in that people should speak English over and above their own - by external pressure. No "Prime Directive" here then. Cultural pressure globally to acquiese to a lowest common denominator. We should be celebrating and rejoicing our differences as much as our similarities. I do not want to be part of a borg collective.

    3) Yes and I am all in favour of the EU. The whole ideal of European integration is to strengthen the member states through co-operation, not the creation of a mammoth superstate. I do not want a United States of Europe - rather a Europe of the Nations.

    4) Balkanisation? Perhaps one should read your history books my friend - are you from the UK?Wales/Scotland did not join the UK voluntarily - read your Act of Unions 1536/1707. By the way, Ireland is not part of the UK. It seceded in the early part of the last century. But that has gone, it is past.

    The new Britain, with devolved power to Wales and Scotland has an opportunity to recreate itself through co-operation on a higher level. Through de-centralisation it is working stronger.

    Europe should be de-centralised also. It is the Swiss model of Cantons which form an ideal.

    In fact what the goal of the Welsh nationalists (I won't speak for the scots as I am not Scottish) is a federal Britain in which the regional govts work together. In fact, we fight also for the WAR - close integration with Europe is a great idea, and helps protect the smaller nations via the Objective One/Two projects. This is where the EU recognises that power and money migrates to the centre of power, and schemes such as Objective One exist to help poorer economies overcome that barrier.

    5) We're not citizens we're subjects technically. But personally, I care little for a "privileged" royal family - so I think of myself as a citizen.

    6) Oh yes I agree a common language is a wonderful ideal. Just don't let it be used as a vehicle for cultural conquest - or denigrate people who choose to use their own language.

    A universal language is a perfect ideal - just don't expect people to give up their languages and cultures. For example how would you decide which is the standard? Fancy telling 1.2 billion people their language is wrong? (That figure is a guesstimate on how many people in the world wouldn't speak language 'x' - where 'x' is your chosen global language)

    Make it a choice.
    Let us remember that we don't know where we are going until we know where we have been.
  • As annoying as it may be, yes, telling and offensive joke is a right. The right to freedom of speech is limited yes, but not by such limiting factors as taste.

    I know that sounds silly, but to limit freedom of speech based on what may offend, is to eliminate freedom of speech entirely.

  • I hear Canada's nice -- if you don't mind the chill; and I *still* hear people talking about Singapore.

    Singapore?? Are you messing with us? Singapore is the country that used to advertise for "official censor" jobs on their government web site (maybe they still do). Singapore is the country that forbids Internet discussion that disrupts "social harmony." [] In Singapore, anyone who puts a political or religious page on the Web must register with the government.

    Yeah, people are still talking about Singapore, but not as a place where freedom-loving people want to live.

    Herbie J.

  • by pixelix ( 169806 ) on Sunday April 16, 2000 @11:46PM (#1128714) Homepage
    Our country (the UK, that is) and its legal system is run by mis-informed, net-illiterate politicians who see the internet as nothing but another marketing tool that their spin-doctors can play for them.

    The crux of the problem is that:

    Apart from a very small minority, Britain, as a whole, is completely 'net' illiterate:

    Only the other day, I was stuck behind a lorry on the M6 (as does tend to happen), and I noticed on the back of the lorry, along with the address and telephone details of the company, was written: "e-mail us:!"(sic) - 10 out of 10 for initiative, 0 out of 10 for knowledge. With people like these running our biggest companies how can our society, let alone our laws change?

    Blair wants Britain to be an e-commerce capital - how on earth can this happen when we live in a god-damned backwards nation, where we still harp on about 1945, 1966 and Thatcher!

    Our country needs educating - which _is_ happening (but only to our children) - people that run our country, and run our biggest companies need to be net literate. Without this literacy we will have serial litigators like Dr Godfrey and his team of crack ambulance chasers suing every site left, right and centre.

    The voices of us geeks and nerds will not be heard - we'll not be taken seriously and we'll be ignored. Either that, or (take Y2K for example) the media will jump on us, bastardise our views and call us idiots when nothing happens.

    Our nation, its laws and its people need bringing out of the 19th (never mind the 20th!) century and back into the 21st!

If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders. -- Hal Abelson