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Defamation on the Internet

Defamation on the Internet

The Dangers of the Internet

There has been significant debate about the effect of publication on the internet and whether the different legal principles do, or should govern action brought for damages for defamation in respect of internet publications.

Newspaper Stories

Newspapers have websites and a publication in a newspaper is generally published on a newspaper website at the same time that publication is made in a newspaper.

Publications of such stories on the internet often contain minor differences.  Sometimes they are identical.  Whatever the position is, each publication is a separate publication and if defamatory, each publication can be the subject of a cause of action.  If you wish to sue on a hard copy newspaper publication and on an internet publication that is identical or close to identical, the two publications are separate must be separately identified and sued on, but may be in the one claim.

Television stations and radio stations normally republish their broadcasts on their websites.  The purpose of the separate publications is to allow listeners or viewers to either read, hear or see (or a combination of all three) the publication if the original mass media broadcast was missed.

The publications, being both the original one on television or radio, and the publication on the website are separate publications.  The same rules that are set out above in respect of newspaper publications apply to newspaper publications in hard copy and on a website, apply to a television broadcast and publication on a television station website.

A Publication About You

You may find that if there has been a publication that is defamatory of you, you will likely be notified of it by a friend or reader who saw it on a website first, such is the reach and power of the internet.

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Frequently asked questions

Can you sue someone who has written a blog or publication that is defamatory?

A publication created by a blogger that is defamatory may be sued upon.  In this case blogger can be sued. Similarly, publications on websites that are defamatory of the plaintiff can be sued upon.

Does it matter where it is published?

This issue is where debate has been focused in the recent past. The rule in Australia is that publication on the internet is made at the place of download.

So, if the publication is uploaded onto a server in South Australia but is downloaded in New South Wales, the place of publication is New South Wales.

Similarly if statements are uploaded onto a server in the United States but downloaded in New South Wales then the place of publication is New South Wales.

From the perspective of the plaintiff, if a delivery of defamatory material by download or by sale of a newspaper occurs in the same place then the rule on publication is the same.

Case study

The authority for the of Dow Jones & Company Inc v Gutnick (2002) 210 CLR 575.

A story in the Wall Street Journal which was published by Dow Jones & Company Inc in the USA was downloaded in Victoria, and Mr. Gutnick claimed he had been defamed, and brought action in the Supreme Court of Victoria against the publisher, Dow Jones.

An application to the Court to set aside Mr. Gutnick’s action on the basis that the publication occurred in the United States and that Victoria was not an appropriate forum failed.  The publication was held to have been made at the place it was read and understood, in this case where it was downloaded, in Victoria.


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