The UK Court, Queen’s Bench division issued an important decision on the liability of Internet service providers late last week. Unlike the U.S., which established statutory immunity for intermediaries where they simply provide the forum for publication, Commonwealth countries such as the UK, Canada, and Australia still rely on common law principles leaving some question about the standard of liability for intermediaries for allegedly defamatory content posted on their sites.
Bunt v. Tilley involved an attempt to hold AOL, Tiscali, and British Telecom liable for allegedly defamatory postings. The claimant relied on the Godfrey v. Demon Internet case to argue that the court could hold the ISPs liable. That case has generated concern among ISPs in Canada as it does hold out the prospect for liability. The court was clearly uncomfortable with that decision, however, issuing a decision that was generally sympathetic to the ISPs.
In particular, the court concluded that "an ISP which performs no more than a passive role in facilitating postings on the internet cannot be deemed to be a publisher at common law." That is the good news as it provides some comfort to ISPs who can rely on this case to argue that they are not liable for doing nothing more than hosting content.