Legal liability of forum operators in the UK
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Are website operators in the UK responsible for comments posted on their website by third parties
As an online forum operator, you might be liable for the comments posted on your website, which had been authored by third-parties.
In most cases, there is no strict liability by website operators for third party content. If you set up a new website which includes a review section or an online discussion forum, you need to be aware that despite stringent UK laws, as a general rule, forum operators are not liable for the comments posted by users on their website but there are some exceptions to the rule.
The reason why the starting point is that website operators are not responsible for third party content is that these internet fora are often places where third party comments are disseminated and operators are normally unaware, and cannot feasibly be aware, of contentious comments without notification. Generally, there is no strict liability on website operators to either monitor or review comments posted on their website by third parties.
UK law expressly provides a defence to operators of interactive websites when an action for defamation is brought against the operator of a forum or a website in respect of a statement posted on their website. Whilst this can provide a peace of mind, we recommend taking legal advice in relation to the individual as each case might present different challenges.
It is important for operators of websites to know their rights and obligations as this will inevitably allow them to operate your business more smoothly and cost effectively. Regulations under section 5 of the Defamation Act 2013, set out the defences for a website operator who had been notified of defamation on their website. The first line of first defence, is for the website operator to show that she did not post the defamatory posts in question. If the victim of the defamation can show that he is unable to identify the poster of the defamatory post, he can ask the website operator to take one of two courses of action.
He can ask the website operator to either identity the poster or to delete the post from her website. If the website operators are unwilling to respond positively to at least one of these requests, the operator might lose their automatic defence, which means, the website operator could be held liable for defamation for the third party post. Upon receiving a formal notice of the complaint by the victim of the defamation, the website operator must, within 48 hours send a copy of the notice of complaint to the poster asking the poster for permission to either delete their post or provide their details to the defamation victim.
The website operator must then wait for 5 more days for a reply from the poster. If the operator is unable to contact the poster, or if the poster does not respond to the operator’s communication, then the operator must delete the post If the poster replies and insist that they wish to keep their statement on the operator’s website, the website operator may keep the defamatory statement on their website and she will have a defence to a claim of defamation by the victim. In case of persistent re-posting of a defamatory post, the operator must remove the re-posted posts within 48 hours of receiving the notice of complaint.
There is no legal duty on website operators to moderate their websites against defamatory posts by third party users. If a website operator decides to moderate their website, they may not automatically incur liability for defamation even if they make slight amendments to the original post. However, in case of an interactive website, where the role of the moderator is prominent in facilitating discussions, website operators may risk being held liable to their own posts or to posts that encourage defamatory conversations. In such case, a website operator might also be held liable to comments by other users of the discussion forum if it can be shown that they had encouraged or deliberately prompted the post of defamatory statements against the victim.