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Shock European court decision: Websites are liable for users’ comments

Ars Technica - Glyn Moody - The ruling is likely to be influential on EU courts' thinking in future.

In a surprise decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has ruled that the Estonian news site Delfi may be held responsible for anonymous and allegedly defamatory comments from its readers. As the digital rights organization Access notes, this goes against the European Union’s e-commerce directive, which "guarantees liability protection for intermediaries that implement notice-and-takedown mechanisms on third-party comments." As such, Peter Micek, Senior Policy Counsel at Access, says the ECHR judgment has "dramatically shifted the internet away from the free expression and privacy protections that created the internet as we know it."

A post from the Media Legal Defence Initiative summarizes the reasons why the court came to this unexpected decision. The ECHR cited "the 'extreme' nature of the comments which the court considered to amount to hate speech, the fact that they were published on a professionally-run and commercial news website," as well as the "insufficient measures taken by Delfi to weed out the comments in question and the low likelihood of a prosecution of the users who posted the comments," and the moderate sanction imposed on Delfi.