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Links to Defamatory Sites are Defamatory? 122

An anonymous Demon Customer writes "Demon Internet (a UK ISP) are blocking customers' ability to post to USENET through their news servers if a customer posts a message containing a URL to a defamatory article on a website (in this case Dejanews). They claim that the act of posting the URL is equivalent to posting the defamatory article itself. It doesn't end there. If another customer follows- up the original article and has the same URL in the quoted text, they also get their access pulled. Where does it stop? Do message ID's of messages containing the URL count (eg. in the `references' header)? This also opens a whole can of worms for the UK's defamation laws, with regards to the internet. Here is the post from a Demon representative which states their position."
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Links to Defamatory Sites are Defamatory?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've been with Demon for years (CIX-era)

    They're smart, they're net-wise, and they're not some bunch of paranoids who drop easily into censorship. OTOH, they're on the receiving end of some major hassle from a vexatious litigant (you may assume that I despise this person, but equally I don't want to expose Slashdot to the same litigation).

    Please don't assume that Demon are making any knee-jerk reaction here. Read the background, read their (very measured) response, read this guy's past history. Demon are making a cautious and quite restricted response to a potential problem, when they're already in a very difficult situation in an area of no clear legal precedent.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The claim arose from the *fact* that Demon *has* pulled news access from several customers for quoting a previous post where the URL was mentioned.

    A quick look at the hundreds of posts in demon.service will show this.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This'll get marked redundant because someone else has said it before, but no one is payed it any attention so I felt compelled to repeat it.

    Laurence Godfrey is a lawsuit-happy fuckwit and a well known Net.Kook. Do a google-search on his name and you'll find stuff going back to '93 about his actions. Basically, he trolls for flames, then sues whoever flames him and their ISP.

    Demon Internet is not voluntarily censoring Usenet. They */LOST/* a court decision and were forced to pull the "defamatory" post. They didn't like doing this, and are appealing.

    It's a bit late to ask, but please people, do some research before posting.

    -Perpetual Newbie
  • Yes, in this case the truth is much more interesting. Read the Guardian article, the Deamon post and the actual article in question, things get more complicated. It seems Godfrey claims that a very inflammitory post atrributed to him about Thai sex experiences is a forgery. Putting the pieces together, he may not be especially litigious, but trying desperatly to stop the circulation of this post. If this is true (let's give him the benifit of the doubt for a second), then the problem is that stuff floats around the internet, taking on a life of it's own. We know of this phenomenon in other cases, such as the boy who keeps getting cards from people for an illness he had seven years ago, etc. While ISPs should be considered common carriers and immune from libel or defamation action, this does present an interesting question. If a false/forced post was bringing you a world of grief, what would you do about it? What should the courts, ISPs, etc. do about it? Obviously, censorship is not the answer. But there must be some way to deal with this type of issue, best not to leave it to the courts.

    A trusting soul
  • We do have common carrier laws. For some bizarre reason, they aren't being applied.
  • is the URL in question.

  • Posted by Debarge:

  • Posted by andygates:

    Sure, I agree that if they are alerted to a defamatory article on their servers, they are wise to remove it. But removing links? I cannot see how this can make them liable; surely it is no worse than a newspaper saying "According to sources, so-and-so is a *@!£$!@" - and giving the sources. Which they already do.

    Demon's move is a dangerous challenge to free speech on the net; a lot of die-hard UK netizens use Demon (it's been around for ever) and I can see them leaving in droves if they start this sort of Big Brother checking.

    As an alternative to killing the links, why don't Demon instead notify the ISP carrying the article? They will then have served "due diligence" and should be absolved of any legal responsibility - and the other ISP can do as it pleases.
  • ...and what if you post a URL to a sweet-and-innocent web page and then overnight the webmaster changes his site and posts "defamatory" material?

    We may also be liable if a link is provided to defamatory material held on another server. For the time being, therefore, we must treat the posting of a link in the same way as the posting of the original material.

    ...but it sounds like they (Demon) are being reasonable about it until they're lawyers can draw up a sensible policy.

  • After being bought up by Scottish Telecom. Demon really have gone downhill. This is just another example of the sad decline of one of the original pioneers of flat rate internet access.
  • >However, if we can assume for the moment that
    >things are similar in the UK as they are in the
    >US (specifically a highly litigous society that is
    >grasping at straws trying to shoehorn emerging
    >technologies into outdated laws very
    >inconsitantly) it makes perfect sense.

    Sounds like it's a single litgious individual, who is already litigating. Under the circumstances, I don't see what choice they had other than betting the farm on what the law is ultimately decided to be . . .
  • Hey man, don't take it too hard, just look at it this way: By definition, half of the human population has *below*average*intelligence*.

    Think about it. It gave me a chill when I really realized what it meant.

  • The point being that the average is way down there compared to most of the people that I know. The realization that half of the pop was at or below that level just struck me.

  • Sorry to pick on this one post in particular, I know there are others like it... but I feel I must point out an error before the community begins to rail on Demon.

    most irritated to learn that they are censoring things.

    Demon is not, they are covering themselves and their users so they don't get prosecuted. The censorship that exists is in the UK's defamation laws. If you want to direct your outrage somewhere, it would be more productive to attack the disease (outdated legislation), than the symptom (Demon's compliance with the outdated legislation.)

    Just my 2 bits.

    Posted by the Proteus

  • If you read the link that they provide you will find that they are currently appealing a decision that held them responsible for a defamatory statement in a Usenet News Group. The law on defamation is (unfortunately) very much stronger in the UK than in the US.

    All that they seem to be doing at the moment is following the ruling from the High Court until the appeal comes through.
  • by Epeeist ( 2682 ) on Thursday June 03, 1999 @05:10AM (#1868892) Homepage
    Try this Guardian article [] for some details of the case.

    It would seem that Dr. Godrey is somewhat litigious.

  • by Jez ( 2703 )
    Matey, a couple of things

    Under UK law noone has a right to free speech. In fact, as subjects of the crown I don't think we don't really have any rights at all, just permission to various things gifted to us by HMtheQ.

    Libel law is pretty strict - it allows you to not only sue the person you allege is defaming you, but also any one who assists in the broadcast of the alleged defamation. For example, it is very common for libel litegants to sue, say, a magazine and the magazine distributors. The burden of proof is also on the defendant, which probably why Demon took this step.

    AFAI recall Godfrey asked them to delete an allegedly libelous post from their newsservers, and when they didn't he sued them. They're just being cautious. This is an important case and I think Demon have been proceeding sensibly.
  • Well, you pays your money (or not, in the case of freeserve), you takes your choice:)

    Personally, I prefer to pay my ISP direct; that way I know they are working for me, and not for whatever telco they are getting their revenues from.

    It's a shame they've had to take this action - but AFAIK the guy has won at least one of his lawsuits already, and demon would be foolish not to protect themselves.
  • ::Anyone else have demon issues??

    You mean apart from still paying 10 quid a month for a service most other UK ISPs charge a fiver for, or give away for free []?

    A static IP address plus fax-to-email and batch FTP is not worth an extra five quid a month (although it is Most Handy, I admit).

    Demon need to cut their price to a fiver a month or risk going down the pan.

    I'm only sticking with them because I've been with them so long that my email address and web site are now so extensively cross-linked by other web sites and search engines that it would take me two years to get all my traffic back.

    According to a "friend in the know" at Telehouse, Scottish Telecom have invested far too much in Demon [] to let the company sink. Frankly I see little evidence of this- every week I expect Demon's Falco obituary in NTK []. Cliff Stanford knew when to quit []- nowt to do with Demon needing a telecoms partner; all to do with increased competition.


  • Oh dear. If you had even half a clue you'd know that Professor Godfrey is suing them for just *carrying* a defamatory article about him. Demon are just going through the motions of covering their behinds.
    If it turns out that it can be argued in court in the UK that posting up links to defamatory information is illegal then EVERY Internet Service Providor will be obliged to take this sort of action.
    Demon don't WANT to do this, but they have to treat the situation as though GOdfrey may win for legal reasons.
  • I'm with Demon because they're fairly reliable and have a good news feed. It looks like they're doing this as a bit of legal ass-covering; making sure they can't be sued heavily later.

    I don't particularly like the way this might head, though...

  • Does anyone have a link to the actual article, or postings which have been deleted from Demon's servers? Presumably it's okay to post these here, since Slashdot hasn't been threatened with legal action (and the US libel laws are probably a bit more sensible).
  • It seems to me that once notified of a potentially libellous posting, Demon have to remove it to avoid legal action.

    But what if they didn't believe me when I said the posting was libellous? What if they had good reasons to believe I was lying?

    If everyone submitted three or four messages each day to Demon, claiming that random articles were libellous and demanding they be withdrawn, then any 'real' complaints would get totally lost under all the chaff. Demon could claim that they were justified in ignoring all such requests. But IANAL and I don't know how well such an argument would work in court.
  • As an anti-censorship campaigner, I have to say that up to now Demon have been doing their best in the face of a bad situation.

    I don't agree with their decision to delete these articles, but people should understand they have just lost a High Court taken by a vexatious litigant. Demon are apparently fighting an appeal, thus putting their money where my mouth is. In the meantime they're trying to minimise their liability in case they lose. Not a good decision, but as long as they fight the appeal you've got to feel some sympathy for them.

    The real problem is the recent Defamation Act. This gave ISPs protection on condition that they didn't know what had been posted. Unfortunately, they don't have protection if they've been "put on notice" that there is a defamatory article there. Quite unfairly, this means they have to decide for themselves the validity of any article complained about.

    What needs fixing is the Defamation Act, which should provide immunity to anyone except content creators and editors until a court has ruled that the item is defamatory.
  • >..but it sounds like they (Demon) are being reasonable about it until they're lawyers can draw up a sensible policy. I have this impression too. This is a way of defending themselves from people like Godfrey, whose first reaction to personal insults and defamation is a lawsuit, not a strict censorship policy. From the few things I've heard about L.G., the lawsuits are very rewarding indeed (is that slanderous already?), due to the ill-defined laws regarding ISP liability.
  • depends on the distribution. by that logic, no one would have average intelligence, half would be below, half would be above. better to say, by definition, half of the human race has an average intelligence at best.
  • In the US, ISP's for the most part, have been claiming to be common carriers (I think that's the term) wherein they simply provide the method with no editing. The phone company is the best example -- they are not liable if you call someone and threaten them, or use the phone to plan a crime.

    In general, what demon has done would be a bad policy because as soon as you start censoring your content, you are no longer a common carrier and are responsible for all the content you carry.

    In this instance, however, it sounds like an individual response to a specific case rather than a general policy.

    Still, I hope when it is all said and done, they put back the messages and be done with it. Mind you, ianal.

  • An AC wrote:
    "You've missed some of the point. The article is probably a forgery (this may be the one that he is suing Demon over)."

    Yeah, exactly my impression from the wording "the article in question".

    But then, that was in response to "Can anyone provide proof of what a prick he's turned out to be otherwise?" (paraphrased), which makes me think that -- IFF such proof, genuine proof, existed -- maybe he shouldn't complain at all. I mean, what's the use crying "they're defaming me by trying to make me look like a prick who would say that!", if he really *is* a prick who *has* said other things like that? Then the alleged "libel" would be true, if not in specific, then in essence.

    "A clue to this is that his name is spelt Laurence."

    Well, then everything's OK then -- Demon can defend themselves very easily by pointing out that it wasn't the PLAINTIFF that was "defamed", but some OTHER guy, who spells his name "Lawrence"! :-)

    Christian R. Conrad
    MY opinions, not my employer's - Hedengren, Finland.
  • After reading the Demon response, and the article it was linked to, I'd be inclined to agree with the action they're taking.
    Demon aren't the menace in this case. The real fault lies with the British legal system.
    It strikes me as one of the greatst problems with the legal system, especially in the environment today.
    A judge is someone who spends years in a University, studying cases in Law from recent years to hundreds of years ago.
    They then become cloistered away from society, really, by necessity, as they have to deal with the day to day running of ordinary Law.
    Then, the problems arise when a single Judge, who knows almost (if not absolutely) nothing about a subject is given the brief to make a legally binding decision about said subject.
    The internet at large is a nightmare of Ethical conundrums, the debate on spammers, who many (including me) would like to see curbed, and then the defamatory postings, which, to tell the truth, are entirely subjective, and _anyone_ can take offense at _anything_ should they feel so inclined to do so...
    The technical people who run the internet are forever trying to keep up with the pace that technology is moving, and they _specialise_ in that area.
    If there is anything that this particular fiasco is beginning to show, it is that the current Legal system is too far out of touch with the world today. They very seriously need to take a long hard look at what is happening, and try and at least come to understand what is at stake.
    Should this decision fail to be overturned at appeal, then it will spell the death knell for many ISPs in the UK.
    It simply isn't possible to filter that much.
    And as has been pointed out, it's much like suing a restaurant owner for a conversation that you overhear on the premises.
    By this argument, if you own 'territory', as space on the net can be thought of (virtual space), then by rights, the Queen and Government are responsible for every defamatory comment that occurs in the UK. They should be sued for everything.
    But that is an endless, and ridiculous way to go.
    The responisility, as always, is with the individual.
    Nobody can be responsible for someone else's actions (unless they incite them, or otherwise deliberately manipulate them)...
    The USA split from the UK a few hundred years ago, and for the main reason, because the powers that be in the UK were arrogant, innefective, out of touch with the world, and made largely stupid decisions..
    We (the UK) are, in the large, pretty much over that.. It's just every now and again, someone creeps out of the woodwork to remind us of just how completely blind and unreasonable the system can be.
    If this goes through, it will be a dark day indeed for the UK and the Net.
    Just my tuppence worth...

  • I once had an extremely nasty exchange with a Demon administrator. I notified them that some of their customers had kiddie porn on their FTP server and they shouldn't have that sort of thing on their site.

    It turns out that the people who had the kiddie porn were secretly mounting a volume on one of their FTP servers by exploiting a security bug on their server. The adminstrator got very angry with ME (starting a flame war between us) and said that he admired the ingenuity of the porn hackers. He didn't take action against them, and probably still allows kiddie porn suppliers to use Demon servers.

    He claims that we in the United States are a little bit uptight about sex, and that I'm just a whiner with bad manners. Oh well, I guess that photos of children under 10 years old having all varieties of sex are perfectly normal in Britain.

    So, Demon is very irresponsible in my view.
  • So if I post a link to a web site that has a link to another site that has a link to a defamatory article, am I liable too?

    I wonder what defamatory article they were talking about so I can judge what started this issue.

    I think it would be prudent to do something from spreading defamatory remarks about someone, although I'm very sensitive to censorship. Considering how fast information travels, someone's reputation/livelyhood can certainly suffer.

    "Man könnte froh sein, wenn die Luft so rein wäre wie das Bier"
  • ...that reading from some link listed in this discussion, my impression was that Mr Godfrey did not post the message. Someone else posted it to make it look like it was from him. Therefore, people get the impression that he's some disgusting pervert. I certainly respect his decision to defend his character.

    I wouldn't like to be defaced in front of the whole world.

    Too bad there isn't a method of tracking who actually posted the message in question.

    "Man könnte froh sein, wenn die Luft so rein wäre wie das Bier"
  • Does that mean that a web-page on Demon which links to a well-written and informative article automatically becomes well-written and informative? I see the potential for Brits to become star journalists with hardly any effort at all... :-)

    (A couple of universities in Norway also tried to add such "transitive responsibility closure" rules for linking to use of their computer resources. A consequence would have been that the University's own web paged would have to be removed, since they linked to universities in Sweden they co-operated with, which linked to students' web pages, which often contained porn - Sweden being Sweden and all that.)
  • There's something completely wrong with the law interpreters here.
    If I walk around on a street or road with a big sign with "defamatory material" or whatever, should the street/road owner be liable? Of course not. Nobody would even think of calling up the owner (which could be private, local authorities or maybe national) demanding them to get me off that road. The police would come directly after me instead, they wouldn't fine the street owner! Why isn't the law the same for ISPs?
  • I think my road analogy was better (a provider (e.g. a road owner), comes up with a transport medium (e.g. a road), and whoever transports slogans or lies/pornography or whatever on that [road] isn't anything you want to blame the [road] owners for).
    Your analogy was particularly bad because you used toxic chemicals as example (something that does hard,physical damage and isn't open for discussion), I believe the right analogy is public speech on the road/public place v.s. public speech on a web site/newsgroup/whatever.
  • In the USA, libel law has a few important features:
    • If the court is convinced that the defendant told the truth, the plaintiff loses.
    • If a "public figure" brings a libel suit, it's not enough to prove that the defendant made a false and damaging statment; the plaintiff must also prove that the defendant either acted with malice or had negligent disregard for whether or not the statement was true.
    • It's difficlut, if not impossible, for a plaintiff to win when the allegedly libelous work is a parody or a political commentary.
    (IANAL ... just a former college-newspaper reporter.)

    I know that some other countries' libel laws make it easier for plaintiffs to win, and I know that UK law is not as strict about free speech as the US Constitution is ... but I don't know details. Can any Brits or legal eagles on /. help us out here?

  • I read the first decision all the way to the bottom. A few points follow.

    This is a preliminary ruling on an acceptable defense. The key fact is that the guy informed Demon of a libelous post. Most of the other cases were against providers who merely hosted a message and were not advised of it's libelous nature. While notification is probably not sufficient to establish liability in the US, the UK is different. It is more important that ISPs have legal rules and safe harbors that they can rely on to limit their liability. If this case defines those for the UK, then it will go a long way toward having a reliable Internet.

    The second point is that the judge gives away that he dosn't think that the case is going to result in a substancial judgement if the plaintiffs win.
  • Illogic knows no bounds, especially in law. Someone once said straining at gnats and leading camels through the eyes of needles were child's play for lawyers.

    And what about the fact that the "defamatory article" is resident on several thousand usenet servers worldwide. Are they all going to be sued by the good doctor?

    Besides, just how do you go about defaming an unknown physicist? Shouldn't someone know who he is before he can be "de-famed"?...

    The Doctor is OUT!
  • I seem to remember there was a case in Germany where a man was sued - anmd lost - for putting up a link to a "bad site". Don't remember if it was libelous, or brutality, or porn, or whateever. Anyway I don't know the outcome of the appeals suit (if that ever happened) and I doubt there was little practical consequence, but the very least you really ought to do in Germany is to put a huge disclaimer next to your external links.

    Someone else from Germany have a link for this? It was on heise/c't.

  • D'oh! Ya beat me to it, Victor!

    I was wondering who would notice... this is an infinite progression. Everything on the Internet is now defamatory, according to Demon, if you take this to it's logical conclusion.

    1. Go to [].
    2. Select "Search the Web" from the bottom of that page.
    3. Select "Dejanews" from the bottom of that page.
    4. Obviously, defamatory articles aren't more then 4 or 5 links away now.

    Ooops... demon's home pages link to defamatory articles! Perhaps they should revoke thier access?

    aka Symphonic Dragon

  • I must have laughed at least 1 minute after reading "moth". Would search engines also be held accountable. Or not, since they're dynamic.

  • Demon should just ban any links or articles that mention this person's name/email/web site. That would protect them, and penalize him.

  • By this reasoning, a URL to an article which contains a URL to a defamatory article, is itself defamatory... Figuring out the far-flung consequences of such a moronic policy is left as an excercise to the reader.

    This is a pefect example of legal lunacy -- cover your ass so thoroughly that you also cover your moth and suffocate. Reminds me of some older software licenses which, when taken literally, would not allow you to copy the software to your harddrive for installation purposes -- actually forbade you to install the software.

    My faith in humans' intelligence is crumbling, piece by piece, every day.


  • I concur. That, for sure, would allow scientists to see some visible proof of water vapor. 1100 miles per hour. Hehe.
  • The impression I got from the articles is that an idea which is reasonably established in American law --- that ISPs are essentially functioning as common carriers, and if they do not engage in selectively blocking based upon content, then they are not responsible for content --- is not established in UK law, and demon is frightened that the legal apparatus in that country may go the other way.

    If that's true, this may be nothing more than a temporary tactical manuever --- better not to fly in the face of the court when it's looking hard at you. On the other hand, or maybe this is the same hand, if their fear is justified, then there will suddenly be problems: UK law and US law will directly conflict (1), and there will be a place where ISPs are responsible for content (2), which is frightening.

    I think instead of getting annoyed at Demon, we should all be screaming at the UK justice system ...
  • You bring up an interesting point: under the existing US legal regime, are sites like slashdot which provide some form of moderation legally responsible for content? IOW, if someone were to post child pornography here, would the existence of a moderation system cause slashdot to be legally required to remove the post?
  • This postiton is a result of libel action taken against Demon Internet by Dr. Laurence Godfrey, a British Physicist. As a result of the judgement in this case, Demon were held responsible because they did not remove the posting from their servers when given notice of the defamatory article. The chilling aspect of this is that the ISP is forced to become judge and jury, or risk paying out in libel cases.

    It is not a problem specific to Demon, it is a problem with UK law as it presently stands. There is a BBC news article [] about the ruling.
  • So its against their rules (and possibly the law by their statements) to have a link to a defamatory article. Its also wrong to provide that link in any way. What about a description of that article? By mentioning the defamation aren't you doing more than providing a link? So now its against the rules (laws?) to talk about defamation. Does that mean the Anti-Defamation league 9as an example) is illegal? (Yeah I know that's in the US and this law is in the UK but it still may apply) And what if in my sig I provided a link the the Anti-defamation league ( from which you can get a list of 'hate sites'. Does that make it illegal to provide that information? This could get out of hand.
    Not to mention any flaws with me being responsible for what you say. Completely seperate issue that is even more idiotic.
  • Oops...

  • The problem here is solely one of who is actually responsible for defamatory material.

    Morally, one would say that the defamer is (and Demon's Acceptable Use Policy [] for their web space conforms to this: "13. You will be held responsible for and accept responsibility for any defamatory, confidential, secret or other proprietary material available via your Homepages site.").

    Historically though, the publisher has a responsibilty also. This is presumably predicated on the notion that someone would read a defamatory statement before it was published - there would be an editor, or a typesetter, or even a scribe who acts as an agent to enable publication. This agent must see the defamatory material beore it is sent out into the big wide world, and as such the publisher can be construed as knowing about it. Also, of course, publishers generally have more money than authors so an aggrieved party is likely to get more dosh out of them.

    Obviously (to netizens, anyway) this whole model of responsiblity explodes in a world of direct communication which requires no intermediaries. For those seeking redress, then, they can either sue the author (who might not be known or legally accessible) or the ISP who carried the dafamation on their server. Given the options, it's hardly surprising if ISPs get it in the neck.

    This decision is very unfortunate, though - ISPs should have common carrier status like phone companies or the postal service: they are merely a channel, and do not control or have direct responsibility for the content generated by their users.

    I feel sorry for Demon here, to be honest - they're just trying to avoid being held in contempt.

  • There was a related case in France not long ago. [], a free web hosting service, was sued by some blonde wannabe-star because one of the sites had pictures of here naked. IIRC it was not porn, just nude pictures. The hosting service was held responsible, fined around $60,000, had to close down the free hosting service. There were 47 000 hosted sites there.

    This has generated some noise here and has had the effect is that a law is being passed right now in Parliament that basically states that a hosting service or ISP be held responsible only for content is has contributed to create or produce, or if it hasn't promptly removed access to the content when summoned by a court. The speaker then goes on to say that he specifically added this last clause to prevent undue preventive censorship by ISP's.

    This law, if it makes it through the legislative process in those terms, is pretty good in that it not only protects hosting services, it also protects free speech by requiring that the ISP not censor any content unless summoned by court.

  • The 'bizarre reason' being that they don't exist, bar the Post Office which *is* exempt. There is no 'common carrier' status for ISP's in English Law, as nice as it would be.

  • I know this one looks like Demon being silly, but the likely cause is far simpler. They got sued a while back for a news article that appeared on one of their servers, despite the fact it wasn't posted by their users. Their plea was an entirely sensible (IMHO) innocent redistribution and pointing out quite how the Internet works, but they lost all the same. It stinks, but it's what's happened and doing something like this is probably necessary to stop them getting sued out of existence.
  • Railroads a better example?

    Railroad company "A" owns and operates tracks through your city. Chemical company "B" own a toxic chemical car that happens to derail (fault of the car, not the railway?) and begin spilling its contents on Railroad "A"'s tracks right in the middle of your town. You contact Railroad "A" to come take care of the mess. They say that Chemical Company "B" owns the car and that they are not responsible for the structural integrity of the chemical car, only the proper operation of the railway as a thoroughfare (sp?).

    10,000 people get sick and or die because of the spill and the railroad (and the chemical company) get hauled into court. The railroad is slapped with a $1 million judgement because they were notified of the hazard but did nothing because they felt they were not technically responsible for the problem.

    Now, that analogy being full of holes as I'm sure someone will soon point out, it appears to me that this guy contacted the ISP since that was where he perceived the problem to be. I don't agree that the court should have sided against the ISP, but I can also see the point of view of this guy who saw some really bad comments being attributed to him, and made a call to where he thought the problem could best be fixed. (now the fact that this guy must be a real creep for so many people to give him reason to sue for defamation is another story.)

  • If the court is convinced that the defendant told the truth, the plaintiff loses.

    True, but note that the burden is on the plaintiff to prove falsity. If the plaintiff is unable to prove that, the defendant has no obligation to prove his story true.

    If a "public figure" brings a libel suit, it's not enough to prove that the defendant made a false and damaging statment; the plaintiff must also prove that the defendant either acted with malice or had negligent disregard for whether or not the statement was true.

    Close -- the key word isn't "negligent disregard," but "reckless disregard." Negligence can be mere sloppiness or laziness, whereas recklessness is sometimes equated to "gross negligence" or "willful blindness."

    (For instance, if someone told me he saw the mayor of New York kill a man in broad daylight in downtown Boston on a particular date, it might be reckless to publish the story without further investigation given (1) the overwhelming likelihood that the story is false and (2) the fact that the story could easily be checked against the mayor's schedule, which is a matter of public record. It's a pretty demanding standard.)

  • Geez, this story is blown way out of proportion. You'd think this was a new policy statement by Demon or something. Instead, it's about one case in particular and only on Demon's newsserver. It also sounds as if the suspension is only temporary.

    In fact, if you read the press release, it appears that Demon is strongly opposed to having to regulate content and would much prefer if the law was clarified to view them as a "common carrier". Read the press release in the link and you will see this.

    Also, where did the claim that "if another customer follows- up the original article and has the same URL in the quoted text, they also get their access pulled." come from? They never addressed this in the article. It sounds like sheer speculation.


  • Trouble is of course that Demon are a UK ISP and
    uk ISP's don't have common carrier status, so they
    can be sued.
  • Yes, I also have one or two complaints with Demon.
    I wasn't asked whether I wanted my tenner a month to provide more Quake servers - so to get a letter one month saying "yippeee your tenner a month now goes even further" annoyed me greatly.

    As far as these 'links might also be deflammatory' goes:
    • Demon should stop infringing everyone's right to free speech, or I really *will* desert them this time;

    • a lot of people should have higher humour tolerance factors. I'm not saying anything here about this specific case but in general, things that should be net.humour are too-often misunderstood.

  • > A static IP address plus fax-to-email and batch
    > FTP is not worth an extra five quid a month
    > (although it is Most Handy, I admit).

    no, you pay your ten quid a month for your own domain name, all the email addresses you need, a static ip, an almost completely uncensored newsfeed, 15Mb web space, smtp delivery of mail, AND pop3 mail, support.

    mind you, you're also paying for turnpike, but you're not obliged to use that.

    me, i think demon is so worth hanging on to, i keep it even though i don't live in the uk anymore.

  • > Too bad ISP's can be run without an ethics
    > board. These people control content by what
    > authority?

    This is *exactly* the point. ISPs *do* *not* control content. they are common carriers and not responsible for the demented gibberings of their users.

    If you insist that ISPs have responsibility for the content of their sites then you can kiss good bye to your own site, unless your ISP have approved it for content.

    In fact the way this thread seems to be going, it's the most oppressive regime possible which will control what you can post.

    Remember, the penalty for spam/"unlawful use of internet" in China is either imprisonment or a bullet in the brain.

    dave, in china and locking the door
  • Lawrence Godfrey wrote:
    > To show you that we are superior race.
    > Read all my articles. Believe me when I said this,
    > In my experience with Thai women, they are no less than animals.
    > The women are there to please us and obey our command.
    > Money! Yes, you can grab children off the street, rip off their clothes
    > and fuck them on the street as easy as 1-2-3.
    > Oh! we are the White God to them. Again, Odzer book is wonderful.
    > Thai women are slaves to the world.
    > They offer great sex. Blow JOBS!!! SUCK MY DICKS AND YOURS!

    having just read the article in question as poted above, i have to say that i have no respect for the person who would say these things. he obviously has very little experience of thai people (who are probably the friendliest people in the world) and has been on some kind of sex tour to SE asia, where he was exposed to the *really* seamy side of Bangkok.


    a: Mr Godfrey is a Sex Tourist and possibly a Paedophile;

    b: he dislikes this being made public knowledge

    c: he is willing to clarify uk law in such a way as to completely restrict the ability of uk people to post or publish on the web anything which may be considered defamatory by *anyone*. i.e. if i don't like "the phantom menace", mr. lucas can sue me!

    dave, glad he's not in the uk anymore.
  • nope, it's *whiskey*.

    Us Irish gave it to you scots as compensation for giving you the bagpipes. Pity you never saw the joke...
  • > Hopefully one of these days
    > somebody will go through the trouble of dragging
    > those bastards into Euro-court and getting
    > them invalidated under the European Declaration
    > of Human Rights (which is the REAL British
    > constitution).


    british law needs to be dragged into compliance with eurpean law. as an example: i can be held without trial indefinitly in .uk purely becaus ei happen to be irish. the racism acts don;t apply to irish people...
  • >...but it sounds like they (Demon) are being
    > reasonable about it until they're lawyers can
    > draw up a sensible policy.


    the uk needs some kind of 'common carrier' law, otherwise any idiot with a grudge could shut down most of the isp's for slander/liber/words they never heard in the bible.

    think about it: if demon are liable for something which appeared in their newsfeed, what's to stop every kook of the month worldwide for suing for defamation? they must be liable for all the porn in their (very uncensored) newsfeed. they must be liable for any negative comments on their own websites, and by the extension of an ignorant court, all websites worldwide.

    would *you* like to be held responsible for or any other gibbering site?

    dave, pissed off in wanchai.
  • by Kati ( 32758 )
    I went with demon because they are immensely cool, and have had no issues with them at all... most irritated to learn that they are censoring things. Anyone else have demon issues??
  • The problem is not with Demon, nor with Demon's lawyers. The problem is with UK libel law.

    In the past Demon have stood up to legal threats. They did so with the French Letter (about*), they have done so with encryption (the next version of Turnpike will have PGP built in), and they tried to do so on this occasion. When Lawrence Godfrey first demanded that they remove the post in question Demon refused. LG sued, and Demon fought it. Unfortunately it looks very much like they are going to lose.

    Given this, they need to avoid anything that stacks up damages. I don't know how they are working things out, but if a Judge decided that each article for which they were liable was worth £100 to LG then Demon could wind up with substantial damages very fast, just because lots of people are discussing it on

    The business with the links, BTW, is down to another legal decision somewhere else. It was decided, reasonably in that case, that telling someone where to find a libellous text (not electronic) was equivalent to publishing it yourself. This has set a precedent.

    I think I can safely point out that everything gets archived on DejaNews. However if I provide any specific parameters that would help someone narrow down the article in question then I am guilty of publishing the libel.

    Incidentally, I don't think that the US First Amendment saves Americans from this mess. They also have a libel law. Its just luck that brought this problem up in the UK before anywhere else.


  • DEFAMATION, n. The uttering of slanderous words with a view to injure anothers reputation; the malicious uttering of falsehood respecting another which tends to destroy or impair his good name, character or occupation; slander; calumny. To constitute defamation in law, the words must be false and spoken maliciously. Defamatory words written and published are called a libel.

    I scanned the articles, but I could not find the actual cause or the reason that Demon is moving in this way.
    In my opinion, Demon has the right to do this, reguardless of free speech, this is "technically" their private property, they call the shots. (I Don't agree that they should be acting in this way.
    What confuses me, is the question of "What prompted this fiasco?" I mean, defamation is defamation, it's only words, and usually does not have that much impact, and can be easily ignored, or subverted in a civilized vintage of retaliation.
    Can anyone help me understand this issue better? It has made me curious.

    Otherwise, it's an issue of "which is more important?"
    The rights of the users to be able to say what they want, and how they want to say it.
    Or the rights of the institution, to be able to control what happens in their insitutions, as to not be held in a compromising position, as well as the liberty of OTHER users who might be offended by materials produced by the previous party.

    This is not something that I want to answer, especially since I do not have all the details.
    *Carlos: Exit Stage Right*

    "Geeks, Where would you be without them?"

  • I just wanted to add a little background on this...

    This action by Demon follows a court case earlier in the year, where a guy claimed that Demon were responsible for defamatory comments posted to their news servers about him (by Demon customers - not by Demon themselves). Demon LOST, and this has been a really worrying development for UK free speech. As I understand it, Demon is now appealing. The postings posted in this new dispute are about the same guy.

    So Demon is unfortunately now having to delete posts/bar users in order to comply with a legal suit that they are appealing against.

    In my experience, Demon have always been one of the best UK ISPs. They have had full news feeds etc. all the time, and seem to have complied with government censorship attempts just enough to stay out of trouble. They're pretty good technically too (always delivered mail by SMTP, always handed out static ip addresses, great support for Linux). a satisfied Demon user (for almost 5 years)
  • The question is not "Should a company be able to restrict the freedom of its customers?" because that is not the issue.

    The issue is "Is it right for the government to hold an ISP accountable for the opinions of its customers?" and the answer is no if the government wants its people to be free.

    When I read the link that Demon provides to the discussion of the case, one thing I thought was ridiculous was they made it look like the entire internet was going to collapse because of this:

    The ruling, if not reversed on appeal, will have a widespread impact on the whole Internet industry and its users in all areas including freedom of expression and electronic trading. Complainants may be able to force ISPs to police and censor any item of information on their servers. The way is opened for scurrilous and unsubstantiated claims that would undoubtedly curb the freedom of speech by Internet users.

    It seems to me that only ISPs unlucky enough to be stuck in a country without the freedom of speech will be affected by this. If this decision isn't reversed, the UK is in serious trouble.

  • While I would suggest that Demon is likely in the wrong here, in terms of deleting posts which contain references to the original article, I am concerned at the backlash against Demon and the UK Legal system for the removal of the initial post.

    To those that oppose the court's decision to force Demon to remove the original posting --> go to and actually do your background research.

    Clearly, not everyone here knows what really occurred. A quick visit to and a search on soc.culture.thai (past messages ~1997) should indicate precisely what happened. It was not a simple case of an individual posting nasty stuff about another individual. It was an individual impersonating another individual (with apparent malice), and saying some very inflammatory things.

    Unfortunately, because that message has been cancelled, it no longer exists in its entirety (on Deja at least). As a result, we are not qualified to say where the message originated from. If it in fact was originally posted through the Demon USENET server, then it certainly is possible that Demon is liable by virtue of having contributed by failing to take adequate measures to ensure that forgeries are not permitted to their users. Further to the point, when Demon was informed that this message was indeed a forgery, they refused to remove it.

    So let's consider a situation, shall we... Somebody posts a message to talk.religion.jewish.orthodox, claiming to be you - the headers look reasonably legit, and the message is Nazi propaganda - keep in mind that for all anybody knows, you are the one that posted this message - and everyone upset by this message has your email address. Let's say you say "Hey, that wasn't me, and _ask_your_sysadmin_ to cancel the post," and he refuses. What do you do? This is probably the closest analogy to this situation that has been posted on the subject.

    Consider another situation... Consider that you are a very good programmer. Consider that you are about to release a great piece of software. Consider that somebody else releases a hideously buggy unacceptable piece of software, and claims that it was written by you, shooting your credibility as a coder to hell. What do you do?
  • by ANDYBCSA ( 36221 )
    What about Demons IRC Servers, aren't they covered by this insane ruling, and what about their www-cache? Does this mean that because I browse a defamatory site through their cache and it is then stored on their servers they are liable!!!

    The Law is truly messed up!

  • If you're interested you can read the judgements of the Godfrey v Demon Internet case. The first [] is dull enough. The second just backs up the initial judgment. Sadly it seems that the courts over here (and the ignorant EU parliament) seem dead set on making ISPs responsible for everything that they don't understand. At least it's not as bad as in Australia.
  • Among other things, recognize the truth of Justice Brandeis' remarks about the best remedy for bad speech -- more speech.

    The best solution is to apply common sense, IMHO.

    At the point that a message has reached urban legends status, it should be fairly straightforward to obtain ISP compliance.

    Otherwise, placing an ISP on notice of the falsehood of a message, and simultaneously addressing the most recent publisher of the defamatory posting can sometimes create legal rights where they did not exist before.

    And yes, distribution of urban-legend stuff takes on a life of its own, but this particular type of republication doesn't seem (to me at least) to be likely to be republished by mere meme-replication, but rather by an intent to republish by someone.

    It is one thing to publish a plea for wondrous things for a sick child, and understand why that e-mail makes the rounds. I'm not sure I see how it would happen in the present case absent someone's desire to see the bad news make the rounds without regard for its truth.

    But, of course, none of this is legal advice. Sometimes, the best solution for bad speech is just to use proper fora to set the record straight. Otherwise, there is usually a solution short of litigation or the threat thereof -- if folks would just apply good common sense.
  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Thursday June 03, 1999 @06:22AM (#1868950) Journal
    We should not be incredulous that the republication of unprotected speech should be actionable, or even that the posting of an -link to a web site would be deemed republication, so long as reasonable care is taken not to infringe First Amendment concerns. Nor can we assume that mere republication constitutes defamation in its own right. As is often the case in legal matters, the truth is rather more interesting.

    In the U.S., the law concerning republication is complex, in part, because as noted by some other postings, the United States Constitution precludes the state from infringing the freedom of speech in many cases.

    The cases seem to universally acknowledge the proposition that mere publication is not, by itself, enough. "Those who merely deliver or transmit defamatory material previously published by another will be considered to have published the material only if they knew, or had reason to know, that the material was false and defamatory." Barres v. Hold, Rinehart & Winston, 330 A.2d 38 (N.J. 1974); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts section 581.

    There is a historically qualified privilege for carriers such as telegraph companies, unless the plaintiff establishes common-law (not constitutional) malice on the part of the defendant. And there is the Cubby case.

    These general rules are further supported by Supreme Court case law setting forth the constitutional doctrine requiring "fault" as a minimum prerequisite for at least most liability for demfamation. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974). There are also some criminal obscenity cases holding that a book store cannot be liable for contents of unreviewed books that they vend.

    On top of all of that, there is also a "fair reporting" privilege for news reporting, because of first Amendment concerns. Repeating a defamatory statement is simply not actionable in public-figure or public-official cases unless the republisher knows the statement is false or is subjectively aware of the probable falsity (which almost never is the case). And in non-public figure cases, the plaintiff will still have difficulty demonstrating the requisite level of "fault" under applicable post-Gertz rules.

    But like "fair use" in copyright, you can't win simply by calling "fair use! fair use!" Its a complex, difficult analysis that defies simple statements of bright-line rules and, is likely to vary from case to case on particular facts. The law is careful that its protection of the Constitutional right does not provide a Constitutional refuge or excuse to widely distribute a quietly published defamatory statement, but is also careful to protect the fourth estate and general first amendment principles.

    For this reason, it is a serious mistake to focus on these cases merely on the technical questions of how a republication is accomplished. The liability will depend upon a host of highly fact-specific inquiries, and could likely go either way depending on those particular facts.

    While it is not a popular thing for a lawyer to answer a question with "maybe," it would nevertheless be irresponsible to suggest that bright line rules govern this subtle and sticky question. I can envision circumstances where an URL-list (regardless of how distributed) can be unactionable mere bibliographic referencing of a document, and still others where it constitutes part of an intentional and willful plan to republish a defamation known to be false.

    So, I wouldn't leap to conclusions -- the truth, as it often is for legal matters, is much more interesting. . .
  • Another ISP hopping on the train of illogical conclusions drawn from the need to rectify itself in front of a possible law enforcement activity (wasn't that ISP blocked by many so-called 'filtering (!) firewalls' some time ago ?).

    We all know this is business as usual. Nothing lost, nothing gained. This happens all the time, be it in a school-environment (do you know how much some operators read ? Shameful.) or on the 'free' internet (see also : WebSense, CyberSitter, Libraries, or simply AOL :-/ ).

    My 2 cents, probably worth a lot less.
  • I agree. I remember when I used to link to Geocities and you weren't allowed to make defamatory comments...I remember a story I wrote about Ralph Klein and I used to be on pins and needles so I put a statement that it wasn't defamatory...

    You couldn't have links either to smut or words with swears too....ha ha, I learned recently that I'm not a "respectable person" after being kicked out of a women's webring for links that contained swears.

    Sad sad sad.

  • At least they made the EFFORT to let their customers know what is going on. And, as I saw someone else post, it sounds like a temporary, emergency measure, not like generalized policy.

    This is better than the American ISPs with pre-installed censorware garbage. Especially Cybersitter. :P

    (Someone refresh my memory here? I know there were a few out there that did this and either didn't publicize it at all or else didn't publicize exactly WHAT Cybersitter was blocking. And that's a story in and of itself ....)

  • To me it doesn't sound like censorship, rather a big ass-covering.

    Like they mentionned in their statement, they're not clear on the laws, so instead of taking a chance that the user himself will be sued, and not them, they're covering their butts.

    And since they're not taking risks, they're going to kill replies, and references to the original post. A little extreme, but still logical.

    Censorship? No. Excessive butt covering? Definitely.


    "Know the fact before you distort them"
    - Ernest Hemmingway
  • I find it funny that an English company is so affraid of diffamatory articles when the Sun and the Daily mirror publish such garbage everyday without any problem - and even worse, with many readers (yuck ! two bad thing in England : food and newspaper).
  • My initial reaction to this is to denouce it as a not very well thought out concept that someone needs to get a clue about. And, without any clue on what the legal environment is like in the United Kingdom right now, I guess I'll have to stand by that feeling.

    However, if we can assume for the moment that things are similar in the UK as they are in the US (specifically a highly litigous society that is grasping at straws trying to shoehorn emerging technologies into outdated laws very inconsitantly) it makes perfect sense. If I was the owner of a company like that, and knew that there was a really good chance that someone would file a lawsuit against me for some outrageous amount of money becuase someone posted something through my services, I'd be prohibiting that kind of activity as much as a 'reasonable man' would be able to.

    I agree that this new medium of the Internet should be treated in many ways like a phone system -- that is, the carrier can't be held responsible for the message that other people send -- but so far, that issue is mired in controversy as far as the courts are concerned. While putting up a test case and fighting for our rights is a very admirable goal, it's also a good way to speed up financial ruin -- lawyers are expensive and loosing a lawsuit would probably be enough to shut down a company due to the outrageous sums that get awarded. If I was running such a business, I'd let someone else take the fight and protect my investment by following the old 'reasonable man' standard of what I filter, simply so I can stay in business.

    Cowardly? Absolutely! But principles of fighting for freedom don't apply too much when talking about the dollars and cents (or pounds) involved in a business. If, of course, people leave filtering and deleting ISPs in droves, there will be a similar economic impact -- the only thing a business really responds to. Of course, no matter what the customers want, if an ISP is sued for not filtering or deleting a post or whatever, they run a good chance of being litigated out of business. If the customers, however, sucessfully petition the government to change the legal environment -- get it officially ruled into law that an ISP should be treated like a LEC, in regards to content responsiblity -- then an ISP has little to be concerned about in that regard.

  • Unfortunately, doesn't this establish a precedent. While sure, they can't go against the judgement pending appeal, accepting that they *are* responsible is a sure fire way of making it so. Unless of course, they have sufficient disclaimers in place to prevent this self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • What an ass!
    The article refers to Thai women (and by implication the Thai race as animals) because they are willing to be paid for sex. I personally fell like the buyers are the real animals, the sellers the victims. Besides, there are plenty of white prostitutes, just look around.
    I wouldn't post the guy out of spite. I hate people with no respect for other people. Whether they have the right to say those things I don't really care, it wouldn't be on my server. And my server wouldn't link it because of my own first ammendment right.
    If the asshole still wants to post, post it on his own server.

    Sure I'm against censorship, but I reserve the right to censor. What can I say, I'm complicated.
  • So, if you're a demon customer, you also need an account somewhere in a free country, and you can just use your demon account to telnet out.

    Fucking censors.

  • Well, I've just looked up a bunch of threads on this "Dr. Laurence". Not only is he the kind of cunt who insists on using his academic title all the time, but he was so churlish as to sue a schooldboy for defamation in a court severa thousands of miles away from where the kid lives.

    Gee, If I wanted to sue the good doctor for breathing my air, I might also choose a court where he had no hope of showing up to defend himself, so that I could get a default judgement.

    Maybe the first amemdment doesn't protect a Canadian, but I am still shocked that this doctor of Jackbooted Thuggery and Schoolboy Buggery wasn't laughed out of court in England.

    This is the internet, Doctor. If you don't like it, then Fuck Off.

  • So, what if there is a link to a link to a link to a link (etc.) to a defamatory site? Given how the internet is set up, and counting a search engine as a 'link' (since it can be counted as one.) Pretty much a link to any site could be considered a 'bad link.'
  • I agree, although "defamatory" material could be reason for the defamed to sue the defamer, could it not? In that case, the defamed might consider Demon the defamer for housing/linking to such material. Unfortunately, we in the U.S. don't have cultural support for defamation. That is, we might tolerate it to an extent, but when there's an oppurtunity, many U.S. citizens are eager to challenge any speech that they don't like -- unfortunately, we are just as thin-skinned as anyone else (except maybe for Germany and it's *strict* anti-hate laws). The legal question, in my view, is whether an ISP can be indirectly responsible for defamation if it allows a customer to defame. I would hope not, but crazier things have happened in legal logic.. IANAL, although ILTPIA (I like to pretend I am).
  • "Should" doesn't really apply.. Sure, in a free market any private firm has the right to restrict its customers to protect its own interests, because the customer can leave if he doesn't like it. The problem is that for whatever complicated reasons, too many are forced to err on the side of safety, resulting in rediculous censorship. Should we be so willing to protect the defamed that we are always hesitant to say anything that might be legally dangerous? I don't think its the type of scenario that lends itself to a progressive society. This idea of "indirect responsibility" for other's speech is getting way out of hand.
  • You are right, if even one lawmaking body decides that ISP's are responsible for content, we are all in deep doodie. []
    I work for a small ISP and I am frightened. We do not block anything, but at least we let our subscribers KNOW we don't. And we don't go peeking into their email, etc.
    Still, there is a fine line between moderating a discussion for relevancy, as they do here at /., and moderating with the intent to minimize 'potentially offensive' postings, as they do at Dr. Laura Schlesinger's sorry site. (Try posting something there on a religion that does not center around the God of Abraham. Woo!)
    Where do you draw that line?
  • Well, looks like they'd better git themselves a con-stee-tution over thar. Not that it couldn't happen here in USALand ;-)

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser