Where is the juristiction of the internet?
December 4, 2009 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know internet law? Can a website owner in one country be sued in another if libel laws are different? Or does it depend on where the server is actually held?
posted by MrMerlot to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are concerned that you may be sued or may want to sue someone, you should contact a competent attorney in your jurisdiction.

But if this is a general interest question, it would help to know more. Specifically, which countries are you interested in? Where is the (hypothetical) server located? Where is the website owner located? Where is the aggrieved party located? Is the aggrieved party a normal person, a famous person, or a politician? All of these questions (and more!) will affect the result.
posted by jedicus at 12:08 PM on December 4, 2009

Have you read this FPP? It talks about a case where that exact thing is happening to Wikimedia, because the laws in Germany are different. Of course, what good is a judgment against someone who is not subject to German law? Who knows?
posted by soelo at 12:10 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Quite possible. Read up on England's libel laws, leading to several web magazines from various countries being sued in English court.
posted by stratastar at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2009

This may also interest you.
posted by Pinback at 12:25 PM on December 4, 2009

Well, you can only be sued in country A for assets owned in country A, generally. Big companies have assets in lots of countries, so they can be sued just about anywhere.
posted by delmoi at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2009

Libel tourism is often used as a means to harass people, for example by exploiting the notoriously bad libel laws in the UK even if the person never set foot in or did any business in the UK.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:31 PM on December 4, 2009

Best answer: As an American living in the UK and currently suing someone (also in the UK) for libel, I can tell you from first hand experience the system here, for all the bad press it receives, is actually fairer and more even handed than the system in the United States.

Simple overview: you can't drag someone into a UK court for Libel (or defamation or slander for that matter) until you've been through what's called The Pre-action Protocol.

If you don't follow the protocol and try to drag someone into court, not only will the case be thrown out (and you'll have to pay the other parties fees), but your Solicitor / Barrister can be formally reprimanded. Needless to say, this doesn't happen often.

The Pre-action Protocol carefully details what information must be exchanged and sets forth clear time frames for this fair and out of court review of information. The goal here is, unlike the American system, keep disputes out of the UK courts. Both parties are encouraged to settle out of court and if the case if finally brought to court and the judge decides a settlement offer made out of court was fair this lack of goodwill is held against you.

Suffice it to say, if you're in danger of being sued in a UK court, contrary to what is posted in this and other Metafilter threads, it won't be a surprise to you, and you'll be offered many chances to settle out of court according to a prescribed and fair system e.g., settlement may and very often takes the form of nothing more than a public apology, for example.

Compare to US systems where often the final judgement, if not the entire dispute, comes as a complete surprise to the defendant, who then faces large judgments if not outright financial ruin.

So, could you be sued in the UK for statements made in another country, say the United States, for example?

Sure, but - in the UK at least - you'd have to prove damages and, once again, these damages would have to be deemed to be fair and reasonable. How could one prove the extent of damages associated with a libelous or defamatory statement? Pretty easy, for example, if you've been terminated from a job with the statements cited as the reason. Otherwise? Well, you've got to prove the damages. Hurt feelings probably won't garner you much cash.

Once again, this is all discussed during the pre-action protocol. And the other party can at any time retract their statements, and offer up a full apology. Where are you then?

Well, the danger now if you push it into court is the jury may agree that you've been libeled, disagree on the damages you seek, and award full fees to the other party. Very risky. Once again, compare the the US system where the deeper pocketed party wins, almost by default.

No, the UK system is not as bad as you might be lead to believe by horror stories.

Finally, from what I've been told by my Solicitors, judges really, really don't want to hear Libel or Defamation cases these days, unless particularly egregious.
posted by Mutant at 1:51 PM on December 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

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