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There can be only one…

By Steven | November 29, 2009

Britain is  toying with abolishing the so-called “multiple publication rule” for defamation, and switching to a US-style “single publication rule”. Under the multiple publication rule, every different publication (ie newspaper copy sold, internet post downloaded, etc) is a separate publication and can be sued upon. This is particularly a problem for online archives, which effectively become new publications when someone accesses them, perhaps years after the original date of publication. What’s that you say? The limitation period will have expired? No, it’s a fresh publication, so the clock starts again. That’s the rule here at the moment too.

The Ministry of Justice there has published a discussion paper considering the pros and cons and inviting submissions. The single publication rule is actually more complicated than it sounds. When will a slightly modified publication, or one in a different format, be a “new” publication attracting liability? What happens if the person defamed doesn’t find out about it until after the limitation period expires?

The Ministry considers a range of possible reforms. I’m attracted to their minimal solutions: a qualified privilege for online archives, unless the publisher refuses or neglects to update the electronic version, on request, with a correction or reasonable letter of rebuttal. Publishers should also be obliged to flag any archive subject to a defamation claim so that users learn about it.

Topics: Defamation | No Comments »


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