Under English law legal action is possible against all intervening persons who are responsible for repeating, publishing or otherwise circulating the defamation, Internet Service Providers such as Virgin Media, AOL or BT run the risk of being regarded as the publishers of libellous remarks, originated by another person, but published by them in one of their hosted websites or forums.
A person who has been defamed online may choose whether to sue the original defamer, or the repeat publisher, or both. In reality many would rather sue the party with the deepest pockets, usually the Internet Service Provider, rather than the original author who might be penniless. Internet Service Provider’s liability appears to be almost unlimited because the courts have so far rejected claims them that a defence of ‘innocent dissemination’ should be available to them because they have no effective control over the material they re-distribute.
The Defamation Act 1996 attempted to provide Internet Service Providers in the UK with an opportunity to limit their liability. However, this law turned out to be very confusing and unclear which means that Internet Service Providers in England are still extremely vulnerable to be sued for defamation. Furthermore, because in cases of internet defamation there is normally a choice of jurisdictions available to the aggrieved party it is very possible for the defamed person to choose to take legal action in a jurisdiction other than the UK, where the defamation law is less favourable to the Internet Service Providers.
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