Defamation and the Internet

Defamation and the Internet

A defamatory comment can destroy both a person’s character and professional reputation.  But a ruined reputation can be salvaged with expert legal advice.

 

Online defamation is a clearly damaging and untrue statement that is published online. The twenty first century internet has vastly multiplied the avenues through which comments are published and spread.  This means a statement that is defamatory will undoubtedly spread on the internet like wildfire – and it is virtually impossible to stop its instant dissemination.

The emotional and financial cost of a destroyed reputation may be incalculable and it is crucial legal action is taken. If you have been the subject of internet defamation consult our experienced defamation attorneys at Parris Whittaker: we can advise you on how best to pursue a damages claim and your options for having the comment/s retracted.

The Law

The purpose of defamation law is to protect people’s reputation from damage caused by false and malicious speech or publication.  The Bahamian Penal Code recognizes two types of defamation: negligent and intentional defamation.  If convicted, the offender can be sentenced to up to two years in jail.  However, this law is rarely applied in practice.
Defamation is also a civil wrong, for which the victim may be able to claim financial damages.  The civil law relating to defamation (found in the 1843 Libel Act) is antiquated and in dire need of reform. Currently, the defendant is guilty until proved innocent.

Bahamian law is based on the English common law - under which the new Defamation Bill has just been presented to the Parliament in London.  Under the Bill, it’s going to be more difficult to prove a claim for defamation.  A statement will not be defamatory “unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant”. The meaning of “serious” has not yet been defined but the purpose of the Bill is to reduce the number of defamation claims that are made.  However, the burden of proof will remain with the defendant.

How we can help

Contrary to what it frequently thought, pursuing a defamation claim through the courts does not have to be very expensive.  We are adept at taking timely, cost-effective action for our clients: the most important first step we can take on your behalf is to facilitate the prompt removal of the offending comment or article.  We will strive to do this without applying to court but occasionally filing legal proceedings becomes necessary. 

Where the author is identifiable, we will make urgent contact formally requesting the post’s removal.  If the author is unidentifiable or in another country, the website publisher or host can in some instances be held legally liable for defamation.  Where appropriate, we will also claim compensation on your behalf for any quantifiable damage you have suffered to your character and or reputation.

We can also advise local and international websites operators, internet services providers (ISPs) and website administrators on potential liability issues and defences for online defamation.  

Our advice may include the immediate removal of suspect comment or content on the relevant website or editing the material or preparing the appropriate defence to a defamation suit brought against a company.  We may also advise reaching an early settlement of damages (if appropriate) if a damages claim is filed by the victim.

The Defamation Bill includes a “notice and takedown procedure” for defamatory comments published online.  Websites would be required to publish a complaint alongside the potentially defamatory post.  They would not be required to physically remove the post unless a court order to that effect is made. 

If you have been the victim of internet defamation, or if you are an organization that has been notified as responsible for the online publication of defamation, consult us for expert legal advice.  The experienced defamation and dispute resolution lawyers at Parris Whittaker will give you urgent advice.

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