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Italian Court Rules Web Editors Not Responsible For Comments 72

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-my-responsibility dept.
itwbennett writes "Internet freedom got a boost Wednesday when Italy's highest court ruled that the editors of online publications can't be held legally responsible for defamatory comments posted by their readers. The judges said online publications could not be treated in the same way as traditional print media and could not be expected to exercise preventative editorial control over readers' comments."
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Italian Court Rules Web Editors Not Responsible For Comments

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    wow a judge that actually has a brain

    it took a lawsuit to figure out there are differences between the internet and a newspaper

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @05:45AM (#38224392) Journal

      If everything has to go all the way to the court system, how can the society function?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kjella (173770)

        If everything has to go all the way to the court system, how can the society function?

        Quite well, actually. It doesn't mean that every instance of something has to go to court, you have big decisions like Sony vs Betamax and then most variations are considered settled case law. There'll always be borderline cases but the contested areas get smaller and smaller. Both in common law and civil law systems you look to higher courts, past cases and similar cases in other jurisdictions and try to be consistent, even if you have different concepts of precedent. Editorial responsibility for comments

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Ordinary people with ordinary jobs do not have the time to go to court.
          The system works if you run your forum on a commercial basis and free speech is releveant to the forums function.
          In all other cases having to go to court is a pretty big disruption to your normal life.

          • by apcullen (2504324)

            Ordinary people with ordinary jobs do not have the time to go to court. The system works if you run your forum on a commercial basis and free speech is releveant to the forums function. In all other cases having to go to court is a pretty big disruption to your normal life.

            Agreed. I spend too much time reading slashdot to be bothered with going to court.

    • by Isca (550291)
      Even better it took an Italian judge to rule this way. Brought to you by the same folks as this gem: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2049773/Does-Italy-Really-Want-Search-Engines-Recent-Legal-Rulings-Suggest-Not [searchenginewatch.com]
  • I don't know if I really should be getting out of the basement but in my knowledge I don't know any country that holds the editor responsible for any comment made by others on an online publication. Though I am really currious if there is any.

    If there isn't any, is this really news?

  • by Provocateur (133110) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @05:26AM (#38224344) Homepage

    Can anyone verify that the court is not made up of CmdrTaco, CowboyNeal and other ex-/. editors wearing robes and fake Italian accents?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Neil Boekend (1854906)
      They'll probably have mustaches, are muching on mushrooms and are looking for a princess in a pink dress.
  • by srussia (884021) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @05:45AM (#38224390)
    I hold that anonymous allegations, however defamatory, should not be prosecutable. It's anonymous, wouldn't a reasonable person just dismiss any such allegation considering the source?

    Got my Nomex suit on, so let's go!
    • by rdnetto (955205)

      What if the nature of the allegation was such that they were still at risk, or that it was personally embarrassing to them? e.g. victims of rape and domestic violence

      Certainly, reasonableness is important and I doubt a reasonable person would consider an anonymous posting on a forum to be convincing, but to allow all anonymous allegations would be a system ripe for abuse.

      • Now we just need a definition of "reasonable" that isn't completely subjective.

        • by rdnetto (955205)

          We already have one. The term 'reasonable person' is a term of art used in law to indicate that an objective test should be applied. It's ambiguous because it's usually used to deal with unanticipated situations. In practice, this means that you usually need a court to decide what is reasonable, if the parties can't agree on it.

          The subjective equivalent is 'a reasonable person in the position of X', which considers the knowledge and idiosyncrasies of X but still requires them to have acted reasonably. That

          • We already have one.

            Whether it is society's (a majority's) opinion on what is reasonable, or a judge's, "reasonable" is still subjective. No matter what test they use, the definition will probably remain subjective.

            It may be useful at times, but I think "it's ripe for abuse" depending on the situation.

            • by rdnetto (955205)

              Whether it is society's (a majority's) opinion on what is reasonable, or a judge's, "reasonable" is still subjective. No matter what test they use, the definition will probably remain subjective.

              It may be useful at times, but I think "it's ripe for abuse" depending on the situation.

              Under that approach, it's impossible to have truly subjective test. I meant subjective only in comparison to the objective test.
              Besides, if you can't trust the judges in a common law system to apply the test in a just and equitable manner, then you have bigger problems than defamation law.

              • objective test

                What "objective test"?

                Besides, if you can't trust the judges in a common law system to apply the test in a just and equitable manner, then you have bigger problems than defamation law.

                What is "just"? That's subjective, too. The fact that you disagree with a judge's decision doesn't mean that his decision wasn't "just."

                The system will likely always be ripe for abuse.

    • Everything was fine and peachy until the name Anonymous was co-opted and that entity/unit started doing bad things. He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. "Rat on your pop, and Anonymous will get you."

  • Odd world-view (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 01, 2011 @06:48AM (#38224584)

    My mother-in-law once asked me how to remove a comment critical of their (brick-and-mortar) bridal fashion store from an online shop-review forum. At first I didn't understand her question, simply because the idea was too foreign for my brain to parse, and then we had a lively discussion about freedom of speech.

    It's good to see this court ruled the way it did, but it remains baffling to me how confused some people are about the mechanics of online forums. And I don't mean the technical mechanics, but the idea that comments/forum posts are content that are not controlled by the site's owner. This seems to be incomprehensible to some people.

    • Re:Odd world-view (Score:5, Interesting)

      by garcia (6573) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @09:59AM (#38225396) Homepage

      I operate a website which has a local, loyal, knowledgeable, and (many time) contentious userbase. These people routinely post comments which get to the heart of the matter and because of the content of the site (restaurant reviews and local politics (county/city level)) can cause business owners and politicians to become upset.

      One particular business, which isn't local yet but plans to be in the next year+, had some representatives post comments on the site and engage my readership. While I always track down new commenters to the best of my ability, especially to out astrotufing, these reps took the time to clearly announce who they were before I had to do any real work (thanks!)

      However, after they posted some comments they realized two things:

      1. They didn't sound very good.

      2. They didn't like what my readers had to say.

      As a result of this several exchanges went back and forth with them trying to get me to allow their comments and the comments of others to be edited/deleted.

      Obviously the repeated answer I gave was "No."

      ---

      People are learning about the Internet, especially PR, but for the most part they're very naive. I continually catch business owners or their reps trying to post astroturf comments in favor of the business and I happily out them. This happens on a continual basis and really brings into question sites such as Urbanspoon (which I actively support on my site) and Yelp.

      If you're interested you can see one of my discussions about this here: http://www.lazylightning.org/astroturfing-poor-attempts-at-changing-opinion [lazylightning.org]

      However, if I am told by a court order to remove the comments, I will. I will go to bat for as long as I can before I have to put my financial stake on the line for a bunch of people on the Internet. I do my best to keep them anonymous (no long-term logging, allow them to use any non-bouncing e-mail address that they actually check) but I will only go so far.

      • I got a series of robocalls from someone claiming to be Rachel with "Card Services" [honeypot.net] wanting to help lower my credit card interest rate. I blogged about it, and 280,000 hits and 972 comments to that page later, I guess I wasn't the only one they were pestering. I removed exactly two comments from that post ever:

        The first was when a poster alleged that a certain person was responsible for all the calls. I got a letter from that person's lawyer telling me to take down the site because it contained libelous sta

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @08:00AM (#38224844)

    Italy still has strict limitations on free speech, this victory is but a drop in the ocean.

    • by worf_mo (193770) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @08:41AM (#38225028)

      Care to point out which legal limitations you are referring to?

      The problem with free speech in Italy is not caused by the law, but by the media monopoly that is in the hand of a single family, and by the organized crime. Journalists have to fear for their job - and sometimes for their physical integrity - when their work covers the "wrong" person. Dissenting voices from the population are gladly ignored by mainstream media (unless it fits their agenda), and when they cannot be ignored they are pictured as silly, selfish, violent, or anti-democratic.

      Michele Santoro [wikipedia.org] had to leave the (publicly funded) RAI because of his critical stance to Berlusconi's political role, and he has received death threats because of his reports. This is the real threat to free speech in Italy right now.

        • by worf_mo (193770)

          A video of an autistic kid being bullied, uploaded to Google Video by one of the offenders to further humiliate the kid, has nothing to do with free speech. (I believe that the judge addressed the wrong party, though.)

          People define free speech differently, depending on their cultural and geopolitical background, and sometimes their agenda (I'm not referring to you, Hentes).

          I live in northern Italy, in a part of the country with three main ethnic groups that was annexed after WWI. For the past few decades, c

          • by Hentes (2461350)

            The problem is, convicting executives of service providers (mind you, they didn't sue the company) can make these kind of services disappear, thus preventing everyone from using them, and that would have a massive effect on free speech.

            People define free speech differently, depending on their cultural and geopolitical background, and sometimes their agenda.

            I would rather say that people redefine free speech differently so they don't have to face the fact that there isn't unlimited free speech in almost anywhere. Yes, it could be much worse, I agree with that, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be better. True, it varies between

            • by canajin56 (660655)
              That's why they should do away with laws against libel, slander, death threats, harassment, copyright infringement, false advertising, trade secrets, and so on and so forth. Because you can't decide what is protected speech based on content.
              • by Hentes (2461350)

                That's why they should do away with laws against libel, slander, death threats, harassment,

                Yes, they should.

                copyright infringement, trade secrets

                Free speech is not an unalienable right. By signing an NDA, or accepting the licensing terms of a copyrighted material, you accept those limits on your speech..

                false advertising

                Now this is a hard one, I admit, but I still think it would be possible to rewrite false advertising laws to be compatible with free speech. Instead of blacklisting false advertisers, authorities could allow advertisements found to be honest to display a 'badge' or logo on them, something like "certified honest advertisement".

    • As an American EU-watcher and sometimes fan of the bloc, I have to say that Italy has the worst "justice" system in the entire EU. Unfortunately I see this as more of an anomaly where they finally got one right than any sort of real progress towards having a more meaningful and useful system of justice. I'd like to point out, again, that while the American system is certainly less than perfect that we don't have the crazy limits on free speech that the EU countries seem very content with and they're a lot
  • by Kamiza Ikioi (893310) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @11:16AM (#38226096) Homepage

    ...career as a judge in Italy, Captain Obvious will be running for political office. And there was singing and dancing in the streets of Italy!

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