The Creator of a Discussion Forum Responsible for its Content

03 December 2002

Isabelle Leroux

In a decision dated May 28, 2002, the Lyon Civil Court, notably on the basis of the French Press law, condemned two persons who had created a discussion forum on the website for having broadcast defamatory and insulting messages against a company called “Père Noë”.

Despite these litigious messages emanated from third persons, the Civil Court ruled that the defendants, as creators of the website must be liable for the offences committed on their website.

By doing so, the Lyon Civil Court applied the automatic liability system of the publication director in the audiovisual communication area to the Internet forum discussion creators.

As the publication director, the creator of a forum discussion, qualified by the Civil Court of an audiovisual communications service, is liable for the content of the web site without being allowed to oppose a lack of supervision of the litigious messages.

This decision grounded on the Press law occurs whereas a few months ago, in a similar case, the Paris Civil Court (TGI Paris 2002-02-18) rendered a less severe decision rejecting the liability of an Internet forum discussions creator on the basis of the law of August 1, 2000, which particularly organizes the host’s liability and subordinates this one to a prior alert from a judicial authority.

The contradiction that exists between the two decisions regarding the held liability system reflects the difficulty, because of lack of specific text, to apply to each Internet actor an appropriate liability system in consideration notably of their ability to control or not the content of the broadcasted messages.

However and in consideration of the numerous Internet participants, we wonder about the opportunity to govern each situation by a text of law or to let the Courts appreciate each case and apply the most appropriate text, even if such a method could be source of legal insecurity.