Liability for ISPs: Bunt v Tilly & Others

April 2006


Five years ago Demon Internet had to settle a claim from Laurence Godfrey who was the subject to defamatory messages on Demon internet message boards which Demon failed to remove promptly when notified. But now AOL, BT and Tiscali have been cleared of any liability for defamation when they successfully applied to have a claim for libel struck out. The claim was over allegedly defamatory messages posted on the Usernet message boards but the court held that ISPs could not be held liable as publishers of defamatory material when their only involvement in the matter was to provide a service through which the defamatory statements were transmitted. However those who had rose tinted aspirations that the internet would be a public realm free of regulatory and legal intervention seem distant dreamers now. The Godfrey case is still good law and indeed those who post defamatory articles in chat rooms and on message boards are clearly liable for their actions in law. And publishers who publish defamatory articles are equally liable; from Gutnick v Dow Jones this seems to be on a multi-territory basis as the article is published ‘worldwide’ although recent cases have limited this to meaningful subscription bases where relevant (see the appellate decision in Bangoura v Washinton Post).

Details of Bunt v Tilly From an article by Jane Phillips, Barrister and Dominic Bray, solicitor in the Guardian (media) , 27 th March 2005: See also John Naughton writing in the Observer Newspaper ( UK, 26 th March 2006). Dow Jones & Company Inc v Gutnick , [2002] HCA 56 Music Law Updates Archive March 2004

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