Do something now: help change the daft defamation law on online publishing

Forget about turning your Twitter avatar green or adding a Twibbon, here’s something you can do today which can make a genuine difference to both professional journalists and bloggers: write to the Ministry of Justice as part of their consultation on defamation which has just a few weeks left:

“This consultation seeks views on the ‘multiple publication rule’ under which [people can be sued for every time a web article has been  accessed], and its effects in relation to online archives. The paper considers the arguments for and against the rule and the alternatives of a single publication rule.”

This consultation couldn’t have been published in a more user-unfriendly way. The consultation page consists mainly of a link to a PDF and a Word document (which was clearly written for an online form that was never created, even down to HTML coding).

There is no clear address to send your responses to. You’ll find it on the 4th line of the Word document. It’s Don’t worry, I’ll repeat that again at the end of the post.

UPDATE: have published the consultation in their trademark easy-to-respond form here.

Here’s what they’re asking (also hereherehereherehere and here), reproduced in a rather easier-to-navigate format and rephrased for slightly easier reading:

  • Question 1. Taking into account the arguments set out in the PDF, should the multiple publication rule be retained? If not, should a single publication rule be introduced? Please give reasons for your answers.
  • Question 2. If the multiple publication rule were to be retained should publishers have to place a notice on an archive once the person responsible has been notified that the material is subject to defamation proceedings?
  • Question 3. If a single publication rule were to be introduced, should it apply to all defamation proceedings, not just those relating to online publications?
  • Question 4. If a single publication rule were introduced,
    1. If the publisher is successfully sued against the original publication of the material, should publishers have to remove or amend material held in other formats under their control?
    2. should there be a provision that, where defamatory material is re-transmitted in a new format, the single publication rule would only protect the previous publisher and not the publisher of the new article?
    3. if neither of these are considered appropriate, how could claimants’ interests be protected?
    4. should the existing ‘voluntary’ obligations to correct inaccurate and misleading material be strengthened? If so, how should this be done?
      Please give reasons for your answers.
  • Question 5.
    • a) If a single publication rule were introduced, do you consider that the approach taken in the United States in respect of what constitutes a new publication of hard copy material would be workable? If not, what changes should be made?
    • b) Should online content that has been modified be regarded as a new publication?
    • c) Are there any other issues that would need to be resolved in establishing a single publication rule? Please give reasons for your answers.
  • Question 6. As an alternative to introducing a single publication rule, should the Defamation Act 1996 be amended to extend the defence of qualified privilege to publications on online archives outside the one year limitation period for the initial publication, unless the publisher refuses or neglects to update the electronic version, on request, with a reasonable letter or statement by the claimant by way of explanation or contradiction? Please give reasons for your answer.
  • Question 7. If the multiple publication rule is retained, should the limitation period remain at one year from the date of publication (with discretion to extend)? If not, what limitation period would be appropriate and why?
  • Question 8.
    • a) If a single publication rule were introduced, should the limitation period of one year run from the date of publication (with discretion to extend) or the date of knowledge (without discretion to extend)? If the latter, should there also be a ten year long-stop from the date of publication?
    • b) If you consider that an alternative approach would be appropriate, what should this be and why?

In case you need further nudging, I’ve started a pledge at PledgeBank – if 10 people sign up to that pledge to write to the MOJ, then I will write too. But not until then. If you need any help let me know.

Once again, the email to send your responses to is Please don’t be put off by the exam-style phrasing and intimidating raft of questions. Just answer the questions you feel able to respond to. If you’ve ever complained about the law not catching up to the internet age, this is your chance to do something about it. So do it.

5 thoughts on “Do something now: help change the daft defamation law on online publishing

  1. Pingback: Take Action: Libel Law Consultation on Multiple Publication Rule | The Wardman Wire

  2. Anon

    fyi, Not everyone is up to speed on the problems with the UK online defamation laws, or on what some sensible improvements would look like. URL?

  3. Joss Winn

    Just to let your readers know that this morning, we republished the consultation on WriteToReply for comment and discussion. All comments will be sent to the Ministry of Justice prior to the consultation deadline.

  4. Pingback: Getting serious about hyperlocal, part 1: Legal issues – Philip John

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