The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a news website is responsible for its users’ defamatory comments.
The judgement comes in the case of Delfi SA v. Estonia.
The case centred on a 2006 article published by Delfi SA, one of Estonia’s most popular news websites, that described a ferry company’s decision to change its routes, which delayed the opening of ice roads to outlying islands. Users reacted to the article by posting comments, about 20 of which contained personal threats towards the ferry company’s majority shareholder.
The ferry company sued Delfi SA and was awarded damages by Estonian courts in 2006. Delfi, after fighting the decision within Estonia, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
The ECHR has now ruled against Delfi S.A., finding that if a commercial site allowed “comments by non-registered users, […] by doing so it must be considered to have assumed a certain responsibility for these comments.” The court also added that “the applicant company had an economic interest in the [published] comments” and that Delfi SA “could have realized that [the article] might cause negative reactions against the shipping company and its managers”.
Comments Aphaia’s Chief Consultant Boštjan Makarovič:
The judgement is likely to have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression online. The Court is effectively saying that all web media houses allowing forum-type comments to their editorial articles are at risk of being sued, unless they exercise ex ante controls. It is a step back in judicial understanding of the internet and goes against the principles we have established in the EU for intermediary liability as early as 2000 in the E-Commerce Directive.
Read this article in Slovene.