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Online defamation – online news service liable for defamatory comments posted

An Estonian online news service had claimed that its national court’s ruling that it was liable for defamatory comments posted by its readers was a breach of its right to freedom of expression, in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has upheld the rejection by the lower court of the ECHR of the claim.

The judgment made clear that where an online service provider purports to have some editorial role, it should not assume that it will be able to rely on the information society service exemptions, even before it has received express notification of an objection from a complainant.

This decision will be a concern for publishers of websites that include facilities for readers to add comments. However, the court attempted to distinguish the circumstances of this case by emphasising the extreme nature of the comments and the fact that they had been published on a website run by a large, professionally managed and commercially successful media outlet.

Delfi AS v Estonia

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