Brussels — The European Court of Human Rights has weighed in on the responsibility of news sites for user generated comments. It ruled that an Estonian news site Delfi could be held liable for comments readers posted following a news story about a ferry company. Delfi removed the offensive comments at the request of the ferry company’s lawyers.

Delfi had appealed to the European Court of Human Right after the Estonian Supreme Court declined to take up the case and a lower court had ruled against Delfi, saying Delfi was responsible for the thousands of comments against the ferry company.

Those who advocate for free speech online, including the Computer & Communications Industry Association, are concerned that this ruling will crush online debate on issues of public interest. CCIA had filed an amicus brief in the Delfi case on the need to protect open expression on the Internet. The following can be attributed to CCIA Europe director Christian Borggreen:

“If online news portals, big and small, must now fear legal liability for user generated content, it will force them to allow only limited and heavily monitored and censored user comments.”

“The judgment confuses what protections intermediates can rely on and it creates uncertainty about the existing European framework which has enabled our online society to flourish. We fear the ruling could have a significant negative impact on investment in the maintenance, development and creation of new online platforms. Even if incumbent platforms may be able to cope with the legal costs, it would likely reduce significantly the number of new start-ups which we depend on for creating jobs in our new digital economy.”

“The Internet has forever changed the relationship between government and citizens by enabling citizens to express their opinions in real time. We are concerned that rulings like this can set a precedent that would have a chilling effect on the Internet sites that are hosting these discussions — and that in turn has a negative effect on online freedoms and democracy.”

 

 

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