Mills & Reeve partner Richard Dawson-Gerrard

'Single publication' rule creates uncertainty for businesses

Business owners across Manchester are being warned to avoid falling foul of changes to libel laws that govern content published online which came into effect on 1st January this year.

The Defamation Act 2013 introduces a ‘single publication’ rule aimed at reducing the scope of libel actions by preventing claimants suing more than once if the same material is repeated.

Previously a new ‘publication’ would include each ‘hit’ to a webpage where the content was hosted, meaning each new view effectively counted as a fresh publication, giving rise to a new liability. As a result, if a defamatory statement is repeated via Twitter or on a blog, the rule may limit a claimant to brining one action.

Richard Dawson-Gerrard, partner at Mills & Reeve’s Manchester office, explains: “Defamation on the internet can touch us all, particularly with the increasing engagement of corporates with social media. The key point here is whether the way in which subsequent publications are made is ‘materially different’, so would a post on an obscure blog republished on a national news website be ‘materially different’?

“Online publishers should interpret this rule with care and not see it as a pass to re-tweet and re-publish to their hearts content, as conditions still apply and the overall position is still uncertain. Our advice to clients would be to remain cautious and to avoid publishing anything they would not have done so previously.”

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