Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rate My Blog, no, Hang On..

Interesting new German case reported by Tobias Escher of the Oxford II. Sadly Pangloss has no German at all (stoopid Brit) so has to rely on Tobias's word for the quoted comment.

Scurrilous remarks on the German version of the web 2.0 site, Rate My Professor (or MeinProf.de) (an innovation which luckily does not seem to have penetrated Southampton law School yet:-) lead to demands from one particularly annoyed professor that certain posts be removed. Although the website took down hastily, the professor in question then went to court demanding the operators pay 3,000 Euros (about £2,000) for any similar comments about him that might appear on the site in the future. The court demurred.

"The court has decided that a general “cease and desist” for unacceptable comments is against the law. As a professor one has to face public criticism that cannot be prohibited ex ante. ..."

and Tobias comments

"Several things have to be noted: In general this is a positive outcome for web sites that leverage the wisdom of the crowds as it offers some protection for the often not-for-profit operators of these sites. However, this does not justify defamatory comments on those sites and the court has emphasized the operators’ duty to remove those entries as soon as they are recognized. Last but not least, the subject under public scrutiny does matters as professors might well be made to face personal criticism in their role as public figures while teachers and nurses might have to be treated differently. "

Interesting but not radical: it is apparent that the E-Commerce Directive Art 14 should protect websites like Rate My Etc Etc from liability for defamatory words posted by a third party. The ECD does not, however, as is well known, prevent the seeking and gaining of injunctions or interdicts to stop such posting; it merely immunises host sites or ISPs against damages. But the ECD does provide in Art 15 that web hosts cannot be commanded by law to monitor pro-actively on a blanket basis, which seemsd to be what was being demanded here. That rule was explicitly not implemented in the UK, interestingly, but only because it was understood to already exist at common law.

In the US as Wendy Seltzer notes, the site could not even have put on notice by the professor, due to the blanket immunity granted by the CDA. Rate My P could have kept the posting up without fear of suit. Whether in this case, as Wendy suggests, free speech should trump the desire of a scholar not to have his reputation casually trashed without any comeback but the self same Internet "right of reply" .. well, Pangloss will go back to her marking :-)

On the other other hand this decision is rather good news for eBay in its continuing desire to have no duty to check pre-emptiovely on the legality of the goods it sells on its various European sites, even where there is a known history and pattern of , say, the sale of Gucci counterfeit goods .. and Pangloss has said before that she is uncertain whether THAT is fair.

No comments: