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European court rules website liable for user comments

Anyone running website that allow for user generated content or comments has another thing to worry about thanks to a ruling this week from the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled    that Estonian news site Delfi  was liable for the content of comments left on the website by anonymous users.

Until this most recent ruling site owners relied on the protection of the EUs e-commerce directive.  This directive “guarantees liability protection for intermediaries that implement notice-and-takedown mechanisms on third-party comments”.   The most recent judgement is complex but removes certainty around that protection.

Delfi’s liability seems to rest of a number of issues:

  • The “extreme” nature of the anonymous comments, which the court considered to amount to hate speech.
  • The fact that Delfi was seen to have taken insufficient measures to weed out such comments and only imposed moderate sanctions on the perpetrators.
  • The low likelihood of prosecution of the authors of the comments.
  • The fact that the comments were published on a professionally run and commercial news site.

More on the reasons behind the decision on

The last of these reasons will be good news to small publisher, but the fact remains that this is a significant shift in liability.  Read more on the story and the implications to free speech on Ars Technica.


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  • Marx my words

    Another reason for Brexit.

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