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Australian Court Rules Internet Makes “Home Turf” Everywhere

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AP reports that Australia’s highest court granted an Australian businessman the right to sue for defamation in Australia over an article published in the United States but posted on the Internet:

    Analysts believe the ruling against international news service Dow Jones & Co. – believed to be the first by a nation’s final court of appeal to deal with Internet defamation – could set a precedent for courts around the world and affect publishers and Web sites that post articles in the 190 nations that allow defamation cases.

    “It’s a judgment that will be looked at very closely by people in this area including the media right around the world,” said Dr. Matthew Collins, a Melbourne lawyer and academic who has published a book on defamation and the Internet.

    “What it means is that foreign publishers writing material about persons in Australia had better have regards to the standards of Australian law before they upload material to the Internet,” he said.

    The High Court of Australia unanimously dismissed an appeal by Dow Jones & Co. aimed at stopping a defamation suit in Australia by mining magnate Joseph Gutnick.

The issue of whether Australian-owned Kazaa can be sued for copyright infringement in the US is as yet unresolved. The world gets a little smaller every day – the law will have to follow.

Tim Blair comments from Australia:

    UH-OH. Looks like Australia just ruined the Internet for everybody … So you write something in the US about some crazy Third World despot and you get sued in his country. Great.

Internet “spooked,” per The Australian:

    OVERSEAS internet companies would start self-censoring to avoid being sued in Australia because of a High Court judgment yesterday, media organisations predicted.

    The High Court ruled news service Dow Jones could be sued in Victoria for an allegedly defamatory story about miner Joe Gutnick that was put onto its website in the US.

    News Limited (publisher of Australian IT), said the ruling would have particular impact on US internet publishers operating under laws guaranteeing free speech.

    “This decision will force them to edit their work to account for Australia’s restrictive defamation laws,” the company said in a statement.

    Peter Coroneos, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, agreed that online publishers would be much more conservative in the kinds of material they published.

    He said the IIA would lobby the federal Government to pass laws providing greater certainty and lower risk to online publishers.

    “We want to give greater control back to publishers for their own liability,” he said. “If they assess content and publish according to the laws (of their own country), that ought to be good enough.”

Glenn Reynolds’ editorial on the subject in The Australian:

    THE High Court justifies this dangerous position, in part, by reference to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides, among other things, that everyone shall be protected from “unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation”. But the covenant says far more than that. It also provides that:

    1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

    2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

    The Gutnick decision would seem to put all of this in peril. A rule that subjects internet publication to an unprecedented degree of transnational regulation would seem to make a mockery of the guarantee of communication through “any other media of his choice” as it would place the medium of internet communication at a substantial disadvantage. And a rule that subjects internet publication – the most inherently international kind of communication – to a virtual welter of overlapping parochial national regulation would seem to fly in the face of the guarantee that the right of free expression should be exercised “regardless of frontiers”.

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