Internet service providers — beware blogs

In Payam Tamiz v Google Inc, a case that considered an internet service provider’s (ISP’s) liability for potentially defamatory comments posted on a blog, the Court of Appeal has delivered a judgment that gives rise to real concerns for blogging platform providers.

The defendant, Google Inc (based in the US), operated a blogging platform. In April 2011, Google’s platform was used to host the blog ‘London Muslim’, which posted anonymous comments about the claimant, Payam Tamiz, a Muslim and Conservative Party member. On 29 June 2011, Mr Tamiz wrote to Google, alleging that some of the comments were defamatory. Google received the letter in early July. On 11 August 2011, Google referred the complaint to the blogger and on 14 August 2011 the blogger removed the comments. Mr Tamiz sought to pursue a defamation claim against Google in the UK based on publication of the comments. In March 2012, the High Court declined jurisdiction, and Mr Tamiz appealed.

Several important issues stood to be decided before the Court of Appeal. The first of these was whether Google was a ‘publisher’ of the comments at common law or under the Defamation Act 1996. The court held that, in relation to the period before notification to Google of the comments and complaint, Google did not have sufficient knowledge, control or active distribution of the comments to be regarded as a publisher. However, in relation to the period after notification, the situation was analogous to the case of Byrne v Dean. In that case, allegedly defamatory words were posted on a notice board in a golf club and allowed to remain there for several days. Having allowed the notice to remain, the owners of the club were held to have published the words. The Court of Appeal concluded that the time taken by Google to procure removal of the posts in question was so long as to give rise to a real possibility that Google was a publisher…

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