4. Libellous Comments

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4. Libellous Comments

Post by ashgray »

What is libel?

Basically, libel is published material that damages the reputation of someone. Internet sites are not exempt from libel laws, so anyone posting such comments as an individual, or someone publishing them on the internet, is also bound by the law. Aggrieved individuals have, in the past, sued online publishers for libel over someone’s comments published on their site, so you must be aware of your responsibilities in this area. If potentially libellous comments are posted on our forums, Atomic Systems would be equally as responsible as you, therefore we take a very firm stance on potentially libelous comments from our members.

It is vital that you read and understand the following advice:

Libel law protects individuals or organisations from unwarranted, mistaken or untruthful attacks on their reputation. A person is libelled if a publication:

• Exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt
• Causes them to be shunned or avoided
• Discredits them in their trade, business or profession
• Generally lowers them in the eyes of right thinking members of society

Get your facts right

The onus is on you to ensure that what you say is true. It is perfectly acceptable to be critical of somebody or a company but you have to be able to substantiate the argument with evidence. Do not make claims or accusations that you cannot prove. As general examples:

• the fact that someone has been found guilty of shoplifting in the past does not necessarily indicate that they will automatically commit the same crime again in the future;

• on the other hand, if you have definite proof that someone is guilty of the above in a current situation, saying so is not libellous. The libellous act is referring to previous events and using them to draw conclusions about current events;

• Likewise, and going back to the MSTS world, you won’t get into trouble by posting about an activity where you are signal checked and then get rammed by AI from behind - this is healthy feedback for the author whether they are a commercial concern or a freeware author. However, please don't post a screenshot of such a scenario (see Section 2 of the Forum Code of Conduct) .

The test of what the words mean is what a reasonable reader is likely to understand, taking in to account any other contexts and indeed the wider forum, past history and so forth. It is not limited to what you strictly wrote in your message, so criticising someone in a way that could be seen as defamation of character puts you on pretty dodgy ground, even if you aren't naming the person, if their identity could be reasonably deduced (and the sentence implies it can be). The law says that you have to prove that what you write is true. The person you’ve targeted does not have to prove that you’re wrong.

Don’t rely on the literal meaning

You cannot solely rely on proving that your statements were literally true if, when they’re taken as a whole, they have an extended, more damaging meaning. To illustrate this point in a general way, if somebody was guilty of robbery once, calling him a robber in a way which might suggest he’s still doing the same may well give rise to a libel which can’t be defended. Be especially wary when referring to events in the past. Be aware that Innuendo can catch you out!

Repeating rumours

It is inadvisable to repeat a defamatory rumour unless you can prove it’s true. Even if you’re contradicting the rumour you should not repeat it. Adding ‘allegedly’ is not enough to get you out of libel difficulties. You become liable for the words you say, even if you are simply repeating or giving voice to the words of someone else. So make sure that YOU can prove the words you say, because YOU can be held accountable for everything you say, even repeating something.

The bottom Line

If you don't have something good or nice to say about someone or some organisation, think long and hard about whether you really need to say it and if you do then make very sure that you can back it up.

Our Data Protection Registration does permit (and even require) us to release personal details that we hold about anyone as part of a legal proceeding, this includes everything including IP addresses, personal details, access logs and so forth... so please do not assume that you are an anonymous poster hidden behind a username, as much as we don't want to drop anyone in it - if legally required to do so then we will, so don't put us OR yourself in that position.

If you post comments that are potentially libellous, your UKTS membership will not protect you from any personal legal repercussions, so don’t do it! Anyone breaching this rule is likely, without warning, to receive a lifetime ban from the UKTS Forums.
Last edited by ashgray on Thu Mar 29, 2007 9:53 am, edited 5 times in total.
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ashgray
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