Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Liability for Online Anonymous Defamation

Ronen Perry, University of Haifa Faculty of Law, and University of Oxford Faculty of Law, and Tal Zarsky, University of Haifa, have published Who Should Be Liable for Online Anonymous Defamation? at 82 University of Chicago Dialogue 162 (2015). Here is the abstract.
The paper discusses the question of liability for online anonymous defamation. Its main theoretical contribution lies in recognizing that the legal response to online anonymous defamation should be viewed and analyzed as a combination of two components. The first is the ability (or inability) to bring an action against the platform enabling the defamatory statement, which we call “the content provider.” Such an action may require modification of substantive law, namely recognition of some sort of indirect liability. The second component is the ability (or inability) to bring an action against the anonymous user, whom we call “the speaker.” Such an action does not require modification of substantive defamation law, but entails adaptation of procedural law, namely establishing a de-anonymization process. Because this framework provides two potential defendants, and each can be either liable or non-liable, there seem to be four possible liability regimes: (1) neither the speaker nor the content provider is liable; (2) only the speaker is liable (exclusive direct liability); (3) only the content provider is liable (exclusive indirect liability); and (4) both may be liable. To our knowledge, the first option does not exist in any jurisdiction, and for a good reason. The Essay thus rejects the other three (adopted in the US, Israel, and the EU respectively), and advocates an outside-the-box solution — the principle of “residual indirect liability.”
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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