Could linking to a libel trigger legal action?

Media websites could be held liable for links to defamatory content on other sites, following a recent court ruling.

The ruling does not set a precedent. But it acts as a warning to magazine and newspaper publishers.

The case involved an author, Christopher McGrath, who wrote a book called

It triggered a series of hostile – and allegedly defamatory – review threads across several websites, including Amazon.

None of the sites published any defamatory allegations, but linked to other sites that did. Mr McGrath is now sueing them.

High Court judge Mr Justice Moloney was asked to rule whether the defendants’ were liable for defamation because they linked to potentially defamatory material on other sites.

He agreed that they can be.

The judge said the law on hyperlinks was uncertain and liability must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

But he ruled that the question of liability for publication in this case was an issue that should be decided at a trial. This means that the defendants could be deemed to be ‘publishers’ and be liable for damages.

Journalists who have attended my law training sessions will know that I have been warning about the possible dangers of linking to defamatory material on other sites for several years.

This final outcome of this case should give some much needed clarity.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law

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