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EU Censorship The Internet

European Court: Websites Are Responsible For Users' Comments 401

An anonymous reader writes: A new ruling from the European Court of Human Rights found it perfectly acceptable to hold websites responsible for comments left by users. Experts are worried the ruling will encourage websites to censor content posted by users out of concern that they're opening themselves up to legal liability. The judgment also seems to support the claim that "proactive monitoring" can be required of website owners. Peter Micek of digital rights group "Access" said, "This ruling is a serious blow to users' rights online. Dissenting voices will have fewer outlets in which to seek and impart opinions anonymously. Instead, users at risk will be dragged down by a precedent that will keep them from accessing the open ocean of ideas and information."
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European Court: Websites Are Responsible For Users' Comments

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  • Dear EU Courts, (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Suck it.

    - An American Enjoying Their Freedom of Speech

    • Re:Dear EU Courts, (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @12:49AM (#49926929)

      - An American Enjoying Their Freedom of Speech

      Well, for as long as even the illusion of 'free speech' lasts, with things like TPP, SOPA, PIPA, and whatever other secret treaties are waiting in the wings for a distraction to provide the right opportunity to sneak a 'yea' vote in.

      Strat

    • by johanw ( 1001493 )

      You are currently in your assigned free-speech zone, aren't you? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_speech_zone)

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      Why are you posting as AC if you have true freedom of speech?

      • Re:Dear EU Courts, (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @04:25AM (#49927535)

        Because there are some idiots that might not like what you say and mistake their dislike for it to being entitled to do nasty things to you for voicing your opinion. Having the choice to posting as AC promotes freedom of expression by permitting free speech in situations that might otherwise inhibit or prohibit it.

        Just look at what happens in countries where freedom of speech is not a given. Journalists having to work under cover, gambling their lives just to get the truth out there because those in power would rather silence them. Anonymity matters.

        Having the option to posting as AC doesn't make your opinion invalid - though you're more likely to surround yourself with assholes that way, and make yourself less likely to be heard. But some messages are important enough that even then they're worth voicing.

  • by weilawei ( 897823 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @12:30AM (#49926857) Homepage

    I quite like the freedom to swear up a fucking storm and make unpleasant comments.

    • Yes, but you get to be censored not by the EU, but by the /. moderators.
      • by weilawei ( 897823 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @12:36AM (#49926883) Homepage

        The Slashdot moderators don't censor; they rate things. I still see every single post. Zero posts are hidden. Which posts have you had outright deleted or modified against your wishes lately?

        • You should see the 'preening' that goes on in the Discus forums. The EU would be pleased

          • You should see the 'preening' that goes on in the Discus forums. The EU would be pleased

            You - I linked to one of the myriad of studies that display the well-known inverse correlation between IQ and religious conviction. No text, just the link, and it was deleted in about 8 hours :-)

            Websites tend to like disqus discussions - by removing all the dissenting voice they can present a "this is what the general readers think" picture which might only be a minority view of the actual readers.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          This isn't the /. of old. GNAA posts and the like are outright deleted with some regularity. See that little flag on each comment? Yeah.

          • by samzenpus ( 5 ) * Works for Slashdot on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @02:08PM (#49930833) Homepage Journal

            Nothing is "outright deleted with some regularity." The flag just puts the comment on a list that an editor looks over every day. We ban spammers who we find leaving links in comments, and occasionally mod down any egregious trolls that aren't already at -1. That's it. We've deleted comments in the past [slashdot.org] under legal threat but it's not our policy to do so normally. This comment showed up on the list but none of the editors are going to delete it. We think it's important to maintain a place where you can say whatever you want, even if that thing isn't popular or as in this case, correct.

  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @12:43AM (#49926899)

    Hopefully this ruling will be used to muzzle the euroskeptics and silence unwarranted criticism of the EU institutions. People don't know how good they have it. They don't need "freedom" they just can't handle, they need unity and purpose and only a united Europe can provide this. Europe is more important than the life of a single human or indeed of whole generations, but small folk do not have the scope to understand this. Silencing dissent is a starting point to instill a European mindset into the populace who has the duty and the privilege to toil for the great destiny of the greatest civilization that has ever been and will ever be.

    • Wilkommen am viertel Reich.

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @04:39AM (#49927569)

      The European Court of Human Rights is not actually an EU institution, regardless of the similarities in naming. It's more like a court that countries submit to
      voluntarily. I saw quite an interesting presentation about it from some human rights lawyers a year or two ago. Apparently it does some good work, especially in addressing more run-of-the-mill rights violations in former Soviet bloc countries.

      Regardless, this is now the second time that some EU court has fucked up extremely basic internet related rulings. First there was the idiotic "right to be forgotten" ruling that makes it effectively impossible for anyone to make a search engine unless they have a vast human army of lawyers and money for lawsuits. Now they want to make websites responsible for everyone who comments on them? Like someone who runs a party should be responsible for anything anyone says whilst there?

      It's quite clear that the judges at this place must either be interpreting extremely vague and piss poor laws, or have never used the internet, or both.

      At the moment the Tory government in the UK is wanting to pull out of the ECHR, partly because it keeps blocking deportation of various 'undesirables' on the grounds of their right to a family life. They want to replace it with a British-specific bill of human rights. I don't really trust the Tories on this matter, their track record of upholding civil liberties is pretty terrible lately, but every time the ECHR produces a disastrous ruling like this I think - you know, maybe there's something in it.

      • Re:Good (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hr raattgift ( 249975 ) on Thursday June 18, 2015 @01:49AM (#49934975)

        See my comment here: http://yro.slashdot.org/commen... [slashdot.org]

        Roughly and in terms of English law, the ECtHR ruling upheld the Estonian Supreme Court's ruling (and that of several Estonian courts) that "L" was defamed, and that Delfi AS exacerbated the defamation by its actions, incurring a small liability for damages. Delfi admits there was the equivalent of defamation in the comments and that they were fairly treated in the Estonian court of first instance, in terms of procedure. Its argument that the Estonian law on defamation is in conflict with the ECHR has been rejected by almost everyone who has heard the case. I'd be strongly surprised if their advocates at every stage had not suggested to them that they did not have clean enough hands in the matter to pursue it through the courts with hope of success.

        The ruling is not a disaster, IMHO. It tries to strike a balance for protecting the general rights of freedom of communication with the general protections from lies that are calculated to injure the reputation (and/or income and/or quiet enjoyment of life without fear), and to make striking such balances in more local courts and legislatures easier.

        In brutal terms, the quantum of damages assessed by the court of first instance against Delfi was very small -- a mere slap on the wrist -- and the ECtHR took that tiny figure into account in considering the reasonabless of the law and its application. Other courts should too. Nobody went to prison, lost their business, or the like. Delfi consequently should pay costs in the appeal -- they insisted on their right to have their day in court on a small matter, and lost.

        Finally, since you ask in another comment below, this would not in any way prevent someone assessed a much more severe quantum of damages (or fines, incarceration or other punitive measures) even in similar circumstances from pursuing relief through the courts, including the ECtHR. Such a person could indeed point to this case in the first instance and likely achieve a better outcome than they would have absent this decision. That's why I say it's not a disaster, not even for free speech enthusiasts. Indeed, there are some newspaper publishers in England who likely will be wishing this ruling had been made before being pressured into a deal with the late coalition government on similar matters.

    • There is no EU institutions involved anywhere in the story. The human rights court is not an EU court. It has many more members and intervenes less.

  • by hercludes ( 2935741 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @12:43AM (#49926905)
    I would think this would be beneficial for trolls/assholes/etc. You could pretty much just say whatever the fuck you wanted to and let the website get in trouble or force the website to enforce some stricter policies.
    • I wonder what effect it would have had in recent cases where posters were held liable for making threats towards sitting judiciary

    • No, it will simply mean that political speech in Europe reverts to what it has always been: something approved by the state and engaged in mostly by statist academics, politicians, and media personalities.

      Newspapers may go back to publishing just selected "letters from their readers" on their web sites, and blogs may disappear entirely. Well, except for the US and a few other places, where the new European fascists can't enforce their laws.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @01:12AM (#49927011) Homepage Journal

    I read about this today, and what this Slashdot/Dice crap summary is claiming is absolute BULLSHIT.

    The case in question is regarding defamatory comments posted to a site that the victim went to court over. The courts ordered that the content be taken down. The lazy assed website owners took SIX WEEKS to remove the content.

    There is not ONE jurisdiction in the world where that would be considered acceptable.

    Websites are NOT being held generically responsible for the content posted. In fact, the articles about this topic make it clear that the courts said only large commercial operators such as newspapers can be held responsible and fined for failing to take down content in a timely fashion when ordered to do so.

    But hey, Dice just LOVES their clickbait lately, don't they?

    • In fact, the articles about this topic make it clear that the courts said only large commercial operators such as newspapers can be held responsible and fined for failing to take down content in a timely fashion when ordered to do so.

      And what? You consider that a good thing? The only problem with this issue is the lack of resistance. We need to make the internet absolutely indelible, by whatever means technically available.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        When a court orders you to take down defamatory comments, then yes. It is a good thing to be held accountable to take it down.

        I'm quite far on the individual liberties side of the spectrum, but if a comment is basically slander then I don't see why it shouldn't be able to be removed in a court of law.

        The problem is if companies have inroads into fast tracking removals (such as 3 strikes rules on Youtube or DMCA requests). That's where the real nasty stuff starts happening.

        • if a comment is basically slander then I don't see why it shouldn't be able to be removed in a court of law.

          This is your problem, you don't understand why censorship is bad.
          Here is what the US supreme court says on the matter:

          If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression.

          • by reikae ( 80981 )

            It's an emergency, I'm being offended. Repression is now justified.

            I'm kidding, but frankly when isn't there a state of emergency? There are wars on terror and drugs going on permanently, war seems to be an emergency.

            • but frankly when isn't there a state of emergency?

              It's a interesting question. SCOTUS defines 'emergency' for the purposes of speech very narrowly. As with anything legal, there is somewhat of a grey area, and the definition has changed over time.

              For a while, if speech presented a clear and present danger [wikipedia.org], it counted as an emergency.

              Later, the court found that meaning of 'emergency' too abusable, and limited it further. Currently there must be a threat of imminent lawless action [wikipedia.org]. If I am telling a crowd to go burn down a store, and the crowd seems lik

    • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @01:47AM (#49927147) Journal
      I'm not sure you have your facts right. According to this report [lse.ac.uk], they removed the comments as soon as they were notified by the victim of those comments. They didn't wait for a court order, but the victim wanted money given to him. The website refused, the court said to pay.

      I don't know where you are, but in the US, the court case Zeran v. America Online provides that websites are not responsible for comments, even if they are notified of defamatory material and neglect to remove it. You can read the relevant law here [cornell.edu].
      • Re:Bullshit (Score:4, Informative)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.LAPLACEnet minus math_god> on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @03:54AM (#49927461) Homepage

        The ruling is more subtle than that. It states that the Estonian law which requires the site to pro-actively monitor the comments is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It doesn't apply to the whole of Europe, just Estonia and countries which have similar laws. I don't know how many that is, but for example in the UK there is no such liability and reactive moderation is fine.

        What is needed now is a new EU directive clarifying this issue and harmonizing the rules for the whole of Europe, which would require Estonia to change its local laws to comply. It's not the huge deal some media outlets are making it out to be, at least not for media outside of Estonia.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        From the ruling:

        15. Having regard to the clearly unlawful nature of the comments in question, as well as the fact that they remained on the news portal for six weeks before they were removed, we do not find it disproportionate for the Supreme Court to find Delfi liable as it had âoefailed to remove the comments

        • They removed the comments as soon as it was requested. It was six weeks before anyone requested that the comments be removed.
    • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hankwang ( 413283 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @02:02AM (#49927207) Homepage

      "The case in question is regarding defamatory comments posted to a site that the victim went to court over. The courts ordered that the content be taken down. The lazy assed website owners took SIX WEEKS to remove the content."

      No. RTFJ(udgment), under the chapter "FACTS".

      The comments were removed the day the complaint came in, at which time the comments had been online for 6 weeks. This happened in 2006, by the way. The website had a mechanism for users to flag comments; apparently the complaining party had not used that and demanded monetary compensation at the first contact.

      The judgment is surprisingly legible, though rather long. Much better than the average EULA. I didnn't read past the description of initial events. I'm sure that it also explains why this particular website owner was held responsible.

  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @01:21AM (#49927033)

    I am sure there is no lack of smart and highly educated people, but you can not have innovation without a high degree of freedom. Imagine running Facebook or Twitter under these kind of laws. The tragedy is that US laws can be easily improved on by a country that wants to be in forefront of technology. Certainly a country motivated to become tech center of the world can respect privacy much more than NSA.

    • by shallot ( 172865 )

      I am sure there is no lack of smart and highly educated people, but you can not have innovation without a high degree of freedom. Imagine running Facebook or Twitter under these kind of laws.

      So, in your opinion, all relevant innovation in hi tech is related to social networks (that may in turn be vulnerable to defamation lawsuits)? What a dystopian view.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @01:21AM (#49927039)

    ... many European websites have started hosting in East Asia.... apparently the last bastion of free speech...

    Seriously how sad would that be? Fucking France and Sweden. They really need to stop it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Uh, you know this is a local Estonian law, right? The ruling is basically that their local law is compatible with European human rights. All it means is that individual European countries can pass laws like this and they won't be struck down under current human rights rules, but they may still be incompatible with other rules such as EU rules on telecommunications.

      It's actually a shame they didn't appeal under telecoms rules because they would have won. For some legal reason I don't really understand (I'm n

  • by rogoshen1 ( 2922505 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @01:39AM (#49927115)

    In the soon to occur dystopian future, 4chan will become the last beacon of light for freethinking individuals everywhere. God help us all.

  • Once again (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @01:46AM (#49927143)

    "He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe." - Tom Wolfe, 'The Intelligent Coed's Guide to America'

  • fuck me as if we don't have enough to contend with here on slashdot with moderators (users) getting into a bun-fight over what comments are appropriate and which aren't, under this ruling the slashdot web site owners would have to review all the comments *and* the moderations *and* all the meta-moderations *anyway*! let the moderation wars begin... starting with this comment, yaay!

  • by jopsen ( 885607 ) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 17, 2015 @02:28AM (#49927259) Homepage
    Article 8 protects people against slander, lies etc, article 10 grants free speech, these must be balanced. And when someone clearly violates article 8 in a comment, and a credible professional news organization, refuses to remove the comment, they can be held liable. Opinions from the ruling:

    8. ......Instead, the Court has adopted case-specific reasoning and at the same time has left the relevant principles to be developed more clearly in subsequent case-law.

    15. Having regard to the clearly unlawful nature of the comments in question, as well as the fact that they remained on the news portal for six weeks before they were removed, we do not find it disproportionate for the Supreme Court to find Delfi liable as it had “failed to remove the comments

    There is nothing sensational here. The court didn't say you were liable upfront, it didn't say that you couldn't be (and in some extreme cases that might make sense). But in this case the court ruled that holding someone liable for refusing to take down illegal speech hosted by them is not a free speech violation.
    There is nothing new here. The ruling does not say you must moderate all comments.

    • The court didn't say you were liable upfront, it didn't say that you couldn't be (and in some extreme cases that might make sense). But in this case the court ruled that holding someone liable for refusing to take down illegal speech hosted by them is not a free speech violation. There is nothing new here. The ruling does not say you must moderate all comments.

      Yes it does. The website took down the comments as soon as the 'victim' complained about them. He wanted money for damages because the website didn't take them down before someone complained about them. The only way to do that would be to moderate all comments.

      • by jopsen ( 885607 )

        Yes it does. The website took down the comments as soon as the 'victim' complained about them.

        The ruling clearly states otherwise:

        15. Having regard to the clearly unlawful nature of the comments in question, as well as the fact that they remained on the news portal for six weeks before they were removed, we do not find it disproportionate for the Supreme Court to find Delfi liable as it had “failed to remove the comments.

        (Emphasis is mine)


        Note, the opinion of the court specifically says that they did not rule on the whether or not the website could be liable for not moderating upfront, and concern themselves with the case where removal had been requested.

        • You misunderstood the ruling. The comments were taken down as soon as the website owners were notified. The comments were on the website six weeks before anyone complained about them.

          The only way they could have removed them before the complaints were made was by moderating upfront.
          • You misunderstood the ruling. The comments were taken down as soon as the website owners were notified. The comments were on the website six weeks before anyone complained about them.

            The only way they could have removed them before the complaints were made was by moderating upfront.

            No, You misunderstand the ruling:

            Estonian law means that the website publisher can be liable for comments by their users. Effectively to comply with Estonian law, the websites are required to proactively monitor comments and remo

        • by hab136 ( 30884 )

          Remained on the new ports for six weeks after... what? After the post was made, or after the complaint about the post was made?

          1. Post is made
          2. Six weeks later, guy complains
          3. Same day as complaint, company removes comment

    • holding someone liable for refusing to take down illegal speech hosted by them is not a free speech violation

      That's rather a contradiction in terms, isn't it. Refusing to take down illegal speech is not a free speech violation. How can you have both free speech and illegal speech simultaneously?

      I think this case sums up one of the most glaring problems with the ECHR which is obvious the moment you read the document they are interpreting. This list of rights is nothing like the American Bill of Rights. The

      • by hr raattgift ( 249975 ) on Thursday June 18, 2015 @03:19AM (#49935163)

        "What kind of idiots actually write such things?"

        In most of your particular extracts, it was mainly the administrators of the Marshall Plan, namely Americans and British politicians, and principally Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe MP (as he then was) taking inspiration from the work of John Peters Humphrey.

        Codification was considered a good idea to avoid relitigation of common exceptions and strikings-of-balance, and to avoid imposing the need to reference foreign case law on the non-common-law countries that would agree to the document. Conflicts arose as well because some well-organized political party groupings (Christian Democrats in particular) threatened to slow ratification in a number of states simultaneously.

        I think the vast majority of the people of Estonia would disagree with your assessment of the ECHR; it was a live issue in their accession referendum and is far better than the Soviet equivalent in every practical way.

        Likewise, at the time it was written, Nazi laws were still on the books in the various sectors of Germany, and the legal system was a mess in all the different occupied sectors. Getting it working in *all* the sectors of occupied Germany (and Austria), including the Soviet sector was an explicit goal of the convention, and it actually succeeded in that respect for about a decade.

        Finally, the document is a live one, and PACE proposes changes to clarify conflicts, to strengthen individual rights (that's the main theme) and subsidiarity, and so forth. PACE is made up of parliamentarians from each of the COE's member-states, meaning it's mostly EU parliamentarians, and since so few of their constituents engage with them on PACE, a letter written to one in an arbitrary EU member-state is likely to be looked at seriously. Maybe you could put your questions to one of them, or make some suggestions for improvement? "Just scrap it" is something they hear a lot more often from non-politicians than "fix it like this, and I'd be happier".

  • The higher up the heads are, the thinner the air gets and with less oxygen, brain function diminishes. Blown up heads don't affect this. Quite the opposite, with less density, oxygen can escape even better.

  • So if some website presents a malware ad that infects someone who is still stupid enough not to use an adblocker the site can be held liable for the damage? That sure would be a good thing.

  • Hmmm, that's an interresting point of view, european court.
    Do you have a website where I may comment on this?

  • The ruling (linked in TFA) is conveniently written in English. It is pretty scary stuff, but IANAL - any professionals out there want to comment?

    First of all, the comments made to the article in question "were vulgar in form; they were humiliating and defamatory and impaired L.’s honour, dignity and reputation. The comments went beyond justified criticism and amounted to simple insults."

    Here is one of the more egregious comments: "What are you whining for, knock this bastard down once and for all [.]

    • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

      Indeed, this is straight up shock scaremongering. Original article itself in fact goes to state:

      T J McIntyre, who is a lecturer in law and Chairman of Digital Rights Ireland, the lead organisation that won an important victory against EU data retention in the Court of Justice of the European Union last year, explained where things now stand. "Today's decision doesn't have any direct legal effect. It simply finds that Estonia's laws on site liability aren't incompatible with the ECHR. It doesn't directly req

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