by John Hawkins | December 19, 2002 11:59 pm
Aussie Opinion Not That Big Of A Deal For Bloggers: I think the blogosphere has been getting a little overwrought about a case in Australia called the, “Dow Jones and Company v. Gutnick.” I’ll let Glenn Reynolds give you a summary of what the case is about…
“(T)he High Court of Australia, yesterday ruled that anyone who publishes on the internet should be liable to be sued in any country in which an individual believes that he or she has been defamed by that publication.”
So if let’s say a blogger were to be accused of libeling someone in Australia, this ruling would mean that the blogger would have to be judged based on the laws of Australia, not based on the laws of their country of origin.
Of course, that is a nonsensical ruling because if other countries were to adopt that standard, it would create a crazy kaleidoscope of laws that almost no one could comply with while writing anything other than the most blase form of drivel.
This has created a lot angst in the blogging world. Here are just a few comments about the ruling…
“But what about pipsqueak bloggers who can’t afford to protect themselves from the umbrageous hordes at home, let alone abroad? The Australian precedent could burden them immeasurably and thus raises the question: Is policing speech in the blogosphere a good and necessary thing or just another way to mum the common man?” — Norah Vincent
“Most media commentators and analysts have assumed that the response to the Gutnick decision will be a simple ‘chilling’ effect, where content providers become more conservative in what they say for fear they could be sued in a more litigious nation. “ — Heath Gibson of the Catallaxy Files
“The courts did what Gutnick wanted and now, should he win, the international impunity of free speech will be seriously threatened.” — Democrats.com
As I said earlier, this a foolish ruling. But, there is nothing for bloggers, well at least American bloggers with no assets in Australia, to worry about here. The courts in Australia can rule however they like, but fortunately, you don’t answer to the court system in Australia. They can’t force American citizens to pay judgements, they can’t put you in jail, they can’t make your provider take down your web page, they can’t do much of anything to you other than conceivably have your website blocked in Australia.
There is precedent for what I’m saying here. France tried to force Yahoo to, “block Nazi-related material from French consumers.” Yahoo chose to comply because they do business in France, however they also filed suit in the US.
Federal District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled in favor of Yahoo and said the following,
“Although France has the sovereign right to regulate what speech is permissible in France, this court may not enforce a foreign order that violates the protections of the United States Constitution by chilling protected speech that occurs simultaneously within our borders.”
So is this a relevant ruling for multinational companies? Absolutely? But for the average “Joe Blogger” it means very little.
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