Supreme court to hear internet defamation dispute

Issue raised after student sued Youtube over clip falsely accusing him of evading a taxi fare

A full hearing of the student’s High Court action for damages and other orders arising from the clips, which was initiated in January 2012, remains on hold pending the appeals.

A full hearing of the student’s High Court action for damages and other orders arising from the clips, which was initiated in January 2012, remains on hold pending the appeals.

 

An important dispute over whether internet hosting sites have immunity from defamation litigation is to be thrashed out before the Supreme Court.

The issue has a significance “well beyond” the case where it is raised — that of a student who sued over a Youtube video clip falsely accusing him of evading a taxi fare, Michael Howard SC, for Google and YouTube, told the Supreme Court yesterday.

Rossa Fanning BL, for Facebook, agreed the case raises important issues concerning interpretation of the E-Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC and the Irish regulations implementing that Directive.

Those issues essentially centre on whether internet hosting sites may be sued over defamatory material posted on them. Other issues concern whether the hosting sites have a responsibility to monitor their sites for such material.

Both Mr Howard and Mr Fanning yesterday supported an application by Pauline Walley SC, for the student, for a priority hearing of the appeal brought by their clients against a High Court interlocutory injunction (an order applying until the hearing of full legal proceedings) requiring the internet giants permanently remove the YouTube video clip.

Last December, the three appellants secured a stay on that injunction pending the outcome of their appeals. However, interim orders remain in place preventing any republishing of the material.

Ms Walley said her client contended he was significantly prejudiced by the material which had been posted and he is very anxious the matter be decided.

At issue was whether the hosting sites should not just take the material down but also “keep it down”, she said. The service providers contended that amounted to general monitoring of sites, she added.

The Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, noted the appeal raises important issues and she made directions concerning the exchange of legal submissions by the parties.

Those directions mean the case will come before the Supreme Court again in late July when the Chief Justice will assess if it is ready to proceed to hearing.

In May 2013, the student was granted the interlocutory order requiring that steps be taken by Google, Facebook and YouTube to permanently remove the video. Mr Justice Michael Peart made that order on foot of his earlier finding that the video was defamatory as the student was not the person in it.

The judge gave the internet companies a month for their experts and experts for the student to come up with reports on how to remove it permanently on a worldwide basis. The clip was still accessible from abroad, the court heard.

The companies sought a stay on the interlocutory order pending their appeal against that order. All three argued the injunction was legally impermissible but Ms Walley disputed those arguments.

Last December, Mr Justice Peart said he would grant a stay, pending appeal. This was an unusual case with a novel point of law which would no doubt come before the courts again given the use of social networking sites, he observed.

The interim orders preventing republishing of the clip must remain in place until the appeal is heard, the judge ordered.

A full hearing of the student’s High Court action for damages and other orders arising from the clips, which was initiated in January 2012, remains on hold pending the appeals.