Courts liability online defamation

24 January 2003

Isabelle Leroux

The Lyon Civil Court has found the editors of an internet discussion forum guilty of having transmitted defamatory messages about the company Père Noë The Lyon court applied the strict liability principle, previously applied only to publishers of audiovisual communications. The court ruled that the principle applies equally to website owners and found the defendants liable for any offence committed on their website, despite the fact that the litigious statements in this case were made by third parties.

This is in direct contrast to a decision of the Paris Civil Court (TGI Paris 2002-02-18) handed down earlier in 2002. This decision rejected the liability of the editor of an internet discussion forum for defamatory comments placed there by third parties. The court relied on a law of August 2000, which provides for exclusion from liability until the internet host is alerted to the presence of illegal content by a judicial authority.

The contradiction that exists between these two rulings and the fact that the two courts used different laws to reach their decisions reflect the lack of specific legislation to apply to internet players, particularly in regard to their ability to control (or not) the content of material published online.

First published in World eBusiness Law Report on 24 January 2004.