Rumbold recently wrote of an attempt by George Galloway to sue David T of Harry’s Place over some comments he made. At the time, I said I supported David T, having also been the subject of several libel letters. Libel law is unfairly stacked against people being sued and I sympathised with his predicament.
But I find this unacceptable and frankly rather grotesque. Andy Newman is right: the precedent set could be horrendous for other bloggers:
Last Wednesday I received a letter from Mr Toubeâ€™s solicitors saying that should either or both of these libel actions proceed then David Toube will seek to join me as a third-party (part 20) defendant and will seek full indemnity from me in respect of all costs and other liabilities that Mr Toube incurs under the Civil Liability (contribution) Act 1978.
In essence, despite all his huffing and puffing about free speech, David Toube has the chutzpah to publish comments on this blog, and then when faced with the consequences, is seeking to hold me legally responsible for his own actions.
In fact I do consider that the comment made by David T was libellous, and I sought to mitigate that libel by refuting the inaccurate content in subsequent comments on the same thread. This blog does not operate pre-publication moderation, so David Toubeâ€™ comment appeared and was read by hundreds of people without any participation whatsoever by the administraors of Socialist Unity blog.
If David Toubeâ€™s legal argument is successful, it will mean the end of blogging as we know it, as the burden of responsibility for libel will be shifted to the registered proprietors of blogs, and people posting libellous comments will seek to hide behind the blog owners to avoid legal responsibility.
Let me explain my problem a bit better with a scenario.
One of our commenters kept leaving comments here about east-London politics that were potentially libellous. I say potentially because I couldn’t ensure their veracity but I didn’t, at the time, want to censor them either. Assume that it was obvious who this person was and someone decided to sue him without me knowing.
It is a fact that the person suing you can demand costs and more while asking you to take the libellous comments off. In other words – if you make a libellous comment you can’t just wait for someone to ask you to take it down first. They are within their rights to demand costs while asking you to take it down. That’s how the law is.
So, assume the litigant demands costs from a commenter who has left the libellous comments on my blog. I am happy to take the comments down but the person who left them up still has to pay up.
Now what if the guy being sued decides to bring me into the case so I have to share the legal costs? Is that fair on me? No it isn’t. It’s absurd.
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Filed in: Blog,Civil liberties