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What is Defamation? The Rise of Internet Libel Cases in Canada

Friday’s Ottawa Citizen carried a story on the rise of libel cases in Canada, due to the rising popularity of blogging.  No doubt bloggers are increasingly being attacked for perceived defamation.  So what is defamation?  That’s a tricky question, made doubly difficult by the fact that it is treated differently in US courts than in Canada.    I am not a lawyer, however, I found the following resources helpful:

  • The Wikipedia entry on Defamation is quite complete, defining what constitutes defamatory speech, and differentiating between libel and slander.  It also includes a history of defamation law, and outlines the differences in practice between several nations, including the US, Canada, and the UK. 
  • EFF.org’s online FAQ on defamation law is also a good resource.  It’s completely US-centric, but does a good job of outlining current case law, and the boundaries that govern free speech.
  • Vancouver-based McConchie Law has an extensive website dealing with defamation, privacy and other topics, including case review, in a Canadian context. 

If you post anything controversial, it’s likely you will, at some point, be harrassed.  You can save yourself some headaches by knowing in advance where the boundaries of free speech exist.

The Citizen piece also includes this quote:

McConchie says most Internet libel cases in which damages are awarded are those in which the person responsible for the offensive material refuses to remove it once they are warned that it may be defamatory. Even if they get into legal trouble over a blog entry or discussion board posting, most amateur Internet authors can avoid a full-blown court case with some common sense and willingness to compromise, he says.

It would take an extreme threat for me to remove a posting, or for that matter, a comment to a posting.  This soapbox of mine is intended to provoke discussion.  If you don’t like what I’ve written, well, that’s what the comment boxes are for.  That way, both viewpoints can be viewed and/or discussed by visitors. 

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Michael Roberts of Rexxfield.com August 7, 2009, 7:42 pm

    The explosive rise of blogging defamation suits is due to some obvious factors that do not take Einstein to list, the fact that anybody with an Internet connection and a computer can be an author it at the forefront. But it goes deeper than that, and I believe that the primary culprit is poor impulse control. Not only is authorship immediately available to almost everyone, I think the “submit button” is much too readily available. I have seen many blog postings published that the authors regret when considered with hindsight, the problem is many such postings are on venues that do not allow any way to retract comment.

    A few simple rules will save much heartache and potentially litigation. Don’t write anything when emotionally charged, don’t publish lies, don’t publish truths that are twisted into a false light, don’t invade anybody’s privacy, and most of all; let us all mind our own business.

    As a result of my personal experiences with Internet libel I now help other victims clean up the mess left by some such impulsive behaviors. Individuals who have not yet suffered under the debilitating effects of Internet libel would do well to just stop and think how stressful and damaging it is. Imagine your name or business smeared 24/7 when anybody, anywhere in the world, chooses to search for your name or business?

    Regards, Michael Roberts. Internet libel victim’s advocate.

  • nitz April 23, 2010, 5:18 am

    I am a victim of cyber libel and i know who is doing it, because she wrote several people the same message but have now gone over board by putting a blog – accusing me of murders and kidnapping!

    How can I seek justice? Please help me….

  • carol September 5, 2010, 3:22 pm

    A type of real estate company named http://www.zillow.com purchases third party information for posting purposes on their site. Approximately 2 months ago, I noticed an error on the listing on my own home currently listed for sale. It stated my house was sold in 2006 for $203,300.00. This was completely bogus. I contacted http://www.zillow,com to advise them it needed to be removed. Of course, they dragged their feet before finally contacting the tax assessor’s office in my county of residence to find out the information that they had posted was wrong and untrue now false and having become Defamation. http://www.zillow,com admitted the information was wrong but would not be able to remove the libelous information until the end of August, 2010 (which was more than 2 weeks later). Well, the end of August came and went and this damaging information still remains on the zillow site giving my house the appearance that it is overpriced due to this deceptive false information. I contacted http://www.zillow.com once again and it was stated they made a mistake and advised it would be down by September 03, 2010. As yet to date, the information that http://www.zillow.com is aware of as being false and deceptive now has become Defamation. Zillow is no longer answering my emails to get this junk removed. Can you offer any suggestions? This does meet the 4 major points of Defamation:
    published Yes
    false Yes
    injurious Yes
    unprivileged Yes

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