The new Defamation Act 2013 officially came into force on 1 January 2014 and needless to say that it has the potential, depending on how it is practically enacted, to be a game changer, especially where the world of online defamation is concerned.
There are a number of new introductions which will rock the defamation playing field, but the first of these introductions that will be discussed today is the new single publication rule (section 8 of the Act), and its effect on proposed libel actions arising from defamatory material published and posted online. In the simplest of terms, the new Defamation Act 2013 states that the clock, limiting your window of proposed action, starts ticking from the moment that the article arrives online – NOT from the moment that you first saw it, NOT from the moment it was first tweeted/shared on Facebook or ‘Google Plussed’ and definitely NOT from the moment that you decided to sue on it!
You can no longer simply rely on the fact that every time an article is clicked on it is republished, as has been the way of things up to 1 January 2014. When you see an article online which is causing you or your business harm, or that could have the potential of harming you, you must act immediately to protect your reputation. Twelve months is a very short period of time; especially when time is ticking on you potentially obtaining recompense from someone unlawfully damaging your reputation via online malicious content.
There is likely to be some teething issues to determine how exactly the single publication rule is to be deployed. The wording of the Act seems to indicate that republication will only protect the original publisher i.e. if a different newspaper picks up the article and then republishes it online, then they may not be eligible for the protection granted by the single publication rule, but again these are issues that can only be properly determined when a case brings the issue to the attention of the Court. There will also be arguments as to whether the piece that is republished is substantially the same as the original piece or not. For example, do comments from other users on an online article materially change it? We would likely say yes: it materially changes the nature of the article, and therefore does not benefit from the singe publication protection. However, we will have to wait and see whether the Courts will agree with our interpretation though.
In summary, online reputation has always been important, but we cannot stress enough that it is now vital given that your time for action is now severely limited. One year from the date of publication is all that is given by the new Act, once that one year is gone then it is likely your reputation will suffer at the hands of the unlawful defamatory publically available online article forever. When considered like that, the Defamation Act 2013 could seriously be a game changer.
Director & Head of Media & Sports Law @PinderReaux