Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Courts Your Rights Online

EU Court Holds News Website Liable For Readers' Comments 246

Posted by samzenpus
from the sticks-and-stones dept.
angry tapir writes "Seven top European Union judges have ruled that a leading Internet news website is legally responsible for offensive views posted by readers in the site's comments section. The European Court of Human Rights found that Estonian courts were within their rights to fine Delfi, one of the country's largest news websites, for comments made anonymously about a news article, according to a judgment."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

EU Court Holds News Website Liable For Readers' Comments

Comments Filter:
  • Nice! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nospam007 (722110) * on Friday October 11, 2013 @05:32AM (#45099607)

    Now we can insult ourselves with anonymous posts and then sue the posting site for 500$.

    Nospam007 you are moron!

    Ooops, forgot to click the 'Post anonymously' checkbox.

    • Re:Nice! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeff Havens (2868493) on Friday October 11, 2013 @06:05AM (#45099731)
      Wow, idiocy is spreading to other courts around the world.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by stenvar (2789879)

        It's not "spreading" when you observe it where it originated.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by angel'o'sphere (80593)

        Insightful? A court upholding the law is idiocy? The site should have removed the infringing comments and be done with it ...

    • by mschaffer (97223)

      Does the ruling open the possibility that the comment does not need to be anonymous?

      • Re:Nice! (Score:5, Informative)

        by jiriw (444695) on Friday October 11, 2013 @09:16AM (#45100553) Homepage

        For the TL;DR people:

        The ruling states a number of very specific conditions. I'll start with the answer your question...
        -The site was held liable for the offensive comments that were made anonymously, because those comments weren't traceable back to the original authors. To hold the site liable was deemed 'practical'.
        -A disclaimer of liability doesn't mean squat if you can't properly divert that liability.
        -The site was found to have generated income out of the posting of those offensive comments. Therefore holding the site liable was found 'reasonable'.
        -The site did not take any proactive steps to remove the offensive comments.
        -Given the nature of the article, offensive comments were to be expected and the site should have taken extra care with this article, which it didn't.

        The compensation of damages awarded to the plaintiff is €320 (US$433) (I didn't omit a 'K' here or something. It's just that, €320).

        • Yeah, I read the article and noted the same thing.

          It's nominally a bad ruling but not the end of the world.

          - The circumstances in which the paper was held accountable are fairly narrow. Anonymous comments allowed, no "proactive" moderation (whatever that is.)
          - The fine was tiny

          My guess is that this'll encourage the move to Facebook commenting that we've seen lately (urgh), as most papers don't want to spend money on moderators. This is a bad thing. But the ruling could have been worse.

    • Re:Nice! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tore S B (711705) on Friday October 11, 2013 @07:12AM (#45099985) Homepage

      No; what this does is hold newspaper editors legally responsible as editors for what they choose to include in their publication.

      This is more likely to mean that anonymity (unless explicitly agreed in advance) in the comments fields will disappear.

      This is a Good Thing, because those fields are cesspools, and online papers show little to no interest in preventing that. As long as they can have the angry idiots coming back to vent their spleen, they get ad revenue.

      Essentially, the courts have forced newspapers to act more like journalistic institutions and less like businesses. I'm totally down with that.

      • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sirwired (27582) on Friday October 11, 2013 @07:37AM (#45100055)

        As long as the comments are clearly delineated from editorial content, I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense to hold the paper responsible for the content of the comments. (Not to mention that holding a newspaper liable under human rights laws for "offensive" speech would be laughed out of nearly any court in the US. That wouldn't stop some clowns from trying, or a particularly brain-addled judge from occasionally issuing an injunction, but it'd never stick.)

        Yes, the comments of many news websites are worthless cesspools of scum and villainy. But there's better ways to prevent that than holding newspapers legally liable for comment content.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Tore S B (711705)

          As long as the comments are clearly delineated from editorial content, I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense to hold the paper responsible for the content of the comments.

          How do you figure comments differ from the opinion column of newspapers, which have always very much been the editor's responsibility?

          Newspapers are fundamentally different from forums like Slashdot or Reddit - they have a well-defined role in society not as bulletin boards, but as authorities, and part of why that is, is exactly tha

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          If the newspaper is using the comments to sell its product then it should bare some responsibility for their content. In the case of a website the product is the reader, sold to advertisers, and the comments attract people to the site who wish to express their opinions or who wish to read other people's.

          Comments are a difficult area, legally speaking. They add value to a site but also come in from 3rd parties. The site publishes them, which from a court's point of view usually makes it liable in the same wa

      • Re:Nice! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kartaron (763480) on Friday October 11, 2013 @07:50AM (#45100101)
        Actually, by definition they are being held accountable for giving the public an area to express their opinion on the content of their publication. There is a difference. The court should have had to prove the comments are somehow supported instead of assuming that since the comments weren't censored. No sane person could interpret a comments section of an online news publication to be sponsored, factually accurate or even impartial. The comments sections are cesspools because the opinions of the general populace (at least those who need to comment on news publication sites) are chaotic. To hold the newspaper responsible is to believe the newspaper itself encouraged some particular (negative) response. Going beyond that, how was anyone damaged? Would anyone here make business or even personal decisions because 'Anonymous Coward' said "Business Alpha Trinkets is a terrible business that stole my money and gave me no trinkets"? Would that change if a user named Alphatrinketssucks had said it instead? The answer is no. The answer is no because we generally have no respect for the random musings of random internet users because of the longstanding tradition of trolls, flamebaiters, morons and lunatics on the web. They are everywhere. Slashdot, a site where moderation of comments is celebrated around the web, is full of innuendo and accusations against any number of international businesses and individuals. none of which do any harm at all because the people reading the comments dont pay any more heed to the comment than the fact that it is one person's opinion, and maybe not even a particularly well reasoned one. Freedom should win out in this case. Freedom always serves the public better than control.
        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          Freedom should win out in this case. Freedom always serves the public better than control.

          There is always a problem with absolute statements like that. How about the freedom to kill someone you don't agree with? The freedom to drive any speed you want in any area? The freedom to walk into a bank and withdraw money you don't own? There are many freedoms that are curtailed in the public interest.

      • I've seen comment threads that are Facebook-login-required, such as that awful Examiner.com site that the Unskewed Polls kook uses, and anonymous or pseudo-anonymous, such as CNN.com, and quite honestly, I don't see the difference. They're both cesspools. The only difference is that fewer people are willing to comment at all if anonymous or pseudonymous posting is prevented - look at McClatchy's move to Facebook from Disqus over the last few weeks. It's pretty much dead now.

        The notion that forcing people

    • Re:Nice! (Score:5, Funny)

      by wiredog (43288) on Friday October 11, 2013 @10:04AM (#45100961) Journal

      You swine. You vulgar little maggot. Don't you know that you are pathetic? You worthless bag of filth. As we say in Texas, I'll bet you couldn't pour piss out of a boot with instructions on the heel. You are a canker. A sore that won't go away. I would rather kiss a lawyer than be seen with you.

      You are a fiend and a coward, and you have bad breath. You are degenerate, noxious and depraved. I feel debased just for knowing you exist. I despise everything about you. You are a bloody nardless newbie twit protohominid chromosomally aberrant caricature of a coprophagic cloacal parasitic pond scum and I wish you would go away.

      You're a putrescence mass, a walking vomit. You are a spineless little worm deserving nothing but the profoundest contempt. You are a jerk, a cad, a weasel. Your life is a monument to stupidity. You are a stench, a revulsion, a big suck on a sour lemon.

      You are a bleating fool, a curdled staggering mutant dwarf smeared richly with the effluvia and offal accompanying your alleged birth into this world. An insensate, blinking calf, meaningful to nobody, abandoned by the puke-drooling, giggling beasts who sired you and then killed themselves in recognition of what they had done.

      I will never get over the embarrassment of belonging to the same species as you. You are a monster, an ogre, a malformity. I barf at the very thought of you. You have all the appeal of a paper cut. Lepers avoid you. You are vile, worthless, less than nothing. You are a weed, a fungus, the dregs of this earth. And did I mention you smell?

      If you aren't an idiot, you made a world-class effort at simulating one. Try to edit your writing of unnecessary material before attempting to impress us with your insight. The evidence that you are a nincompoop will still be available to readers, but they will be able to access it more rapidly.

      You snail-skulled little rabbit. Would that a hawk pick you up, drive its beak into your brain, and upon finding it rancid set you loose to fly briefly before spattering the ocean rocks with the frothy pink shame of your ignoble blood. May you choke on the queasy, convulsing nausea of your own trite, foolish beliefs.

      You are weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. You are grimy, squalid, nasty and profane. You are foul and disgusting. You're a fool, an ignoramus. Monkeys look down on you. Even sheep won't have sex with you. You are unreservedly pathetic, starved for attention, and lost in a land that reality forgot.

      And what meaning do you expect your delusionally self-important statements of unknowing, inexperienced opinion to have with us? What fantasy do you hold that you would believe that your tiny-fisted tantrums would have more weight than that of a leprous desert rat, spinning rabidly in a circle, waiting for the bite of the snake?

      You are a waste of flesh. You have no rhythm. You are ridiculous and obnoxious. You are the moral equivalent of a leech. You are a living emptiness, a meaningless void. You are sour and senile. You are a disease, you puerile one-handed slack-jawed drooling meatslapper.

      On a good day you're a half-wit. You remind me of drool. You are deficient in all that lends character. You have the personality of wallpaper. You are dank and filthy. You are asinine and benighted. You are the source of all unpleasantness. You spread misery and sorrow wherever you go.

      I cannot believe how incredibly stupid you are. I mean rock-hard stupid. Dehydrated-rock-hard stupid. Stupid so stupid that it goes way beyond the stupid we know into a whole different dimension of stupid. You are trans-stupid stupid. Meta-stupid. Stupid collapsed on itself so far that even the neutrons have collapsed. Stupid gotten so dense that no intellect can escape. Singularity stupid. Blazing hot mid-day sun on Mercury stupid. You emit more stupid in one second than our entire galaxy emits in a year. Quasar stupid. Your writing has to be a troll. Nothing in our universe can really be this stupid. Perhaps this is some primordial fragment from the original

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 11, 2013 @05:37AM (#45099625)

    This is not EU law, it is the ECHR which relates to the Convention on Human Rights - a separate body from the EU...

    • I don't think the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could've have tried this case as you can't appeal decisions of national courts at the ECJ. Hence the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

      Still not a done deal as this verdict can be appealed within a span of three months.
    • by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Friday October 11, 2013 @06:12AM (#45099761) Homepage Journal

      Estonian law holds news website liable for comments. The European court has ruled that Estonian law does not breach the human rights conventions. Ironically, I could not comment on the Computerworld article due to a "Forbidden (403)" error.

      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday October 11, 2013 @06:25AM (#45099837)

        Estonian law holds news website liable for comments. The European court has ruled that Estonian law does not breach the human rights conventions.

        Why don't YOU write summaries?

        Oh, wait, that would increase their quality. I apologize for putting forward such a preposterous idea.

        • by PhilHibbs (4537)

          To be fair, they just quoted the Computerworld article, news organizations are copying each others' mistakes all the time. And a lot of people over on this side of the pond confuse the European Court of Human Rights with the European Union. It's all "bloody Europe, they should mind their own business" round here.

      • by ibwolf (126465)

        This is an important distinction you make. The ECHR did not hold new websites liable for readers' comments, as the title would have you believe. It merely ruled that a national law (Estonian in this case) that did so was not in violation of human rights.

        This means that websites in other European countries that recognize the authority of the ECHR will not be need to worry about this unless there is a similar national law in place.

        • This means that websites in other European countries that recognize the authority of the ECHR will not be need to worry about this unless there is a similar national law in place.

          It also means that other European countries that recognize th authority of the ECHR have now been given the go-ahead to pass such laws without fear of interference by the ECHR.

  • Apparently it isn't just our appellate courts here in the States that have gone batshit crazy. The insanity seems to be spreading.
  • No it doesn't. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 11, 2013 @05:56AM (#45099711)

    From the article:

    Delfi argued that it was not responsible for the comments and that the fine violated E.U. freedom of expression laws. However the judges agreed that Article 10 of E.U. law allowed freedom of expression to be interfered with by national courts in order to protect a person's reputation, as long as the interference was proportionate to the circumstances.

    In other words, the EU allows its nations to finetune their own interpretation of freedom of speech within certain boundaries and it ruled that the Estonian law does not violate those boundaries. This is a good thing as every country and culture values the balance of rights differently.

    • Re:No it doesn't. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by enrevanche (953125) on Friday October 11, 2013 @06:53AM (#45099923)
      It's almost always about those with power silencing those without. It really has very little to do with culture. In the U.S. this is usually done with volume because the powerful are stuck with the Constitution. They would have changed things via regulare legislation along time ago if they could have. One thing important to consider is that the preferred way to get people to shut up is via self censorship, either fear of legal prosecution or exasperation because of a sense of powerlessness.
  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Friday October 11, 2013 @05:56AM (#45099713)

    And nothing of value will be lost.

    • No loss? In case of Lithuanian branch it'd be pure win for mental health of the readers. You have no idea how crap it is.
      • Most news sites enforce some standard of ideological purity in order to keep the trollage levels down, so the comments turn into an effective echo chamber. Especially the US sites, with their liberals-vs-conservatives political divide.

        • Most news sites enforce some standard of ideological purity in order to keep the trollage levels down, so the comments turn into an effective echo chamber. Especially the US sites, with their liberals-vs-conservatives political divide.

          While I've never seen a news site that blatantly does so, I have noticed people tend to self-segregate; you won't see a lot of pro-Obamacare comments on Foxnews.com, nor will there be very many people supporting gun rights on HuffPo.

          This is why I've made it a hobby to go to sites like that and provide a counterpoint to the choir... reactions are hilarious. It's a bit like sticking your finger in an ant mound: the next thing you know, a thousand of the little bastards are crawling all over you.

          • I have the same hobby, except that most of my comments either don't make it through moderation, or are swiftly deleted. I'm very polite about it, no profanity or insults. It must just be that we frequent different sites.

            Try onenewsnow.com. There's no shortage of comments referring to president 'Ombongo,' but comments questioning their frequent abuse of statistics or one-sided presentation of the news never seem to get shown.

  • I have some choice words for these judges.
  • by mschaffer (97223) on Friday October 11, 2013 @06:18AM (#45099789)

    If comments are bad for science, why shouldn't they be bad for everyone else?

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/13/10/02/2059238/do-comments-on-web-pages-ruin-science [slashdot.org]

  • by advid.net (595837) <{ten.divda} {ta} {todhsals}> on Friday October 11, 2013 @06:21AM (#45099807) Journal

    I've seen many news web sites, in France, that shut down the comment feature in advance for articles about subjects usually prone to racist or antisemitic comments.
    I have mixed feelings about this kind of limitations, they look like full preventive cencoreship.

    Sometimes they can resort to manual comment moderation for this type of subject.

  • Looks like us sane peole should start emulating the Napoli football fans who recently staged a protest for the right to be insulted by Milan fans after said fans were banned from their own stadium for "offensive language".

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/09/italian-football-fans-abuse-milan-napoli [theguardian.com]

    Fuck all these whiny pussies who want to turn the world into some sort of cotton swaddled PC playgrond for retards.

    • by coofercat (719737)

      TractorBarry is a raging homo/lesbian/paedo/other, who likes nothing more than to take advantage of vulnerable young people. he's predatory, merciless and ruthless.

      TractorBarry lives at 123 Fake Street, Springfield, 90210. If you happen to be in the area, pop over and tell him how you feel about his homo/lesbian/paedo tendencies.

      TractorBarry is an abomination, and will hopefully contract cancer and die really soon. He's the product of a mother who was hooked on crack and gave blowjobs to just about anyone s

      • What is "truly in appropriate"? My mom and I would have different opinions. That is the crux of the argument. Estonia's solution is that the offended person gets to decide, which is pretty inappropriate.
  • by trifish (826353) on Friday October 11, 2013 @07:23AM (#45100007)

    A very interesting piece of info is at the bottom of TFA:

    since readers were allowed to make comments without registering their names, the identity of the authors would have been extremely difficult to establish. Making Delfi legally responsible for the comments was therefore practical, said the court. It was also reasonable, because the news portal received commercial benefit from comments being made.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by garutnivore (970623)

      A very interesting piece of info is at the bottom of TFA:

      since readers were allowed to make comments without registering their names, the identity of the authors would have been extremely difficult to establish. Making Delfi legally responsible for the comments was therefore practical, said the court. It was also reasonable, because the news portal received commercial benefit from comments being made.

      (Bold added by me.)

      Thanks for bringing this up. Their rationale for holding Delfi responsible is the same damn rationale that cheerleaders for the police state everywhere bring up, every single time. Doing the right thing would have been too hard. See, if they actually had done the right thing, they would have had to actually spend substantial effort at unmasking who actually posted anonymously. So they decided to just peg the act on a convenient actor.

      • by Freultwah (739055)
        No, it's more along the lines of, ‘you're making money off those comments, so better hire a moderator to rein in the crackpots and the compulsive hatemongers’. The news portal is quite infamous in the three Baltic states and is considered yellowish or quite yellow, depending on whom you ask, and although they have time and again said that they consider their comments section as added value to the articles themselves, their actions (or rather inaction) have shown that they do not give a damn abou
    • by tttonyyy (726776)

      So if there was no commercial benefit, then it is OK?

      How does tripadvisor get away with it then?

  • The EU needs to fine itself for being idiots and then disband.
    • by CRCulver (715279)

      The EU needs to fine itself for being idiots and then disband.

      Even were this done, it would have nothing to do with the events here. The ruling is by the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU institution (Slashdot''s mistake in putting "EU court" in the headline notwithstanding).

  • Oh right, it's Europe, so you're not personally responsible, you can socialize the risk.

  • Clearly, the people reading such comments are the ones responsible for them; othewise the poster wouldn't make the effort.
  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Friday October 11, 2013 @11:24AM (#45101775)

    Here is the actual rulling [google.ca] rather than a paraphrased version. The important bit follows;

    In assessing this question, the Court assessed four key issues. First, the context of the posts. The comments had been insulting, threatening and defamatory. Given the nature of the article, the company should have expected offensive posts, and exercised an extra degree of caution so as to avoid being held liable for damage to an individual’s reputation.
    Second, the steps taken by Delfi to prevent the publication of defamatory comments. The article’s webpage did state that the authors of comments would be liable for their content, and that threatening or insulting comments were not allowed. The webpage also automatically deleted posts that contained a series of vulgar words, and users could tell administrators about offensive comments by clicking a single button, which would then lead to the posts being removed. However, the warnings failed to prevent a large number of insulting comments from being made, and they were not removed in good time by the automatic-word filtering or by the notice-and-take-down notification system.
    Third, whether the actual authors of the comments could have been made liable for them. The owner of the ferry company could, in principle, have attempted to sue the specific authors of the offensive posts rather than Delfi. However, the identity of the authors would have been extremely difficult to establish, as readers were allowed to make comments without registering their names. Therefore many of the posts were anonymous. Making Delfi legally responsible for the comments was therefore practical; but it was also reasonable, because the news portal received commercial benefit from comments being made.
    Finally, the court addressed the consequences of Delfi being made liable. The sanctions imposed by the Estonian courts against the company had been fairly small. Delfi was required to pay a EUR 320 fine, and the courts did not make any orders about how the portal should protect third party rights in the future in a way that might limit free speech.
    Taking into account all of these points, the Court held that making Delfi liable for the comments was a justified and proportionate interference with its right to freedom of expression. There had therefore been no violation of Article 10.

A rock store eventually closed down; they were taking too much for granite.

Working...