ONLINE ARCHIVES: Finding a Common Ground in the Quicksand of Online Defamation Developments.
Nowhere is the world smaller than on the Internet. With one mouse click, people from across the globe can re-acquaint themselves with old friends, research the unknown, read newspapers from faraway places and times. As the world cyber-shrinks, the ways in which governments and courts attempt to control the information on the web has become diverse and contradictory. Issues of national interest and international jurisdiction have stretched across all aspects of the web. We must find a more cooperative, coherent and consistent international policy, one which fosters the free flow of information, while protecting personality rights.
The controversy is not limited to the present, but affects the way the Internet records and preserves history. As newspapers bring massive archives online, they are faced with defamation laws which may hinder the free flow of information or inadequately protect personality rights. What is protected speech in one country may be defamation judged from another country in a future time.
This paper explores the traditional liability regimes concerning paper archives and how these laws are applied to online archives available on the web. The paper explores how national courts are attempting to mold traditional theories of liability to fit the new Internet-based reality of publishing and archive maintenance. The paper explores the recent case in Germany, which extends national jurisdiction into the New York Times archives in New York City, as well as cases specifically dealing with online defamation standards. We also review the enforcement of defamation judgments from foreign jurisdictions in the US, where many of the media outlets involved in the litigation are headquartered. The paper then outlines recent developments to “combat” libel tourism in the US, in particular, statutes which would extend jurisdiction to foreign nationals who have not availed themselves of American jurisdiction. These laws seek to extend the First Amendment far beyond American borders.
These developments are in many ways, spiraling out of control, escalating away from a common path for resolution of the competing interests of society and personality. While a common solution might be warranted, such will be difficult given the competing priorities in the varied jurisdictions. The paper also reviews the potential solutions for standards that will satisfy these priorities.
Keywords: Free Speech, Defamation, Online Archives.