Internet draft law threatens colleges

July 28, 1995

Universities could be sued for defamatory comments that their employees have put on the internet, is one of the implications of a draft Bill just published by the Lord Chancellor's department.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is seeking views on the Bill, which brings defamation law up to date by including publishing in electronic media. The new law initially appears to absolve universities of responsibility, because it holds authors, editors and publishers primarily responsible for comments. It says that those who are not primarily responsible include people involved only in processing, making copies of, distributing or selling any electronic medium in or on which the statement is recorded.

Similarly, those who operate any equipment by means of which the statement is retrieved, copied or distributed would not be primarily responsible. But these people must also show that, having taken all reasonable care, they had no reason to suspect that their acts contributed to the publication of the statement.

Nick Braithwaite, media lawyer at international law firm Clifford Chance, said that the "reasonable care" clause needed to be clarified.

Reforming Defamation Law and Procedure can be obtained from Adrian Compton-Cook on 0171 210 8560.

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