Legal pitfalls of online archives

Online archives of newspapers and magazines present a legal “problem area” when it comes to libel and contempt of court.

Geraldine Proudler from Olswang warned that each time a story is accessed from a publisher’s online archive a new publication takes place.

It means the normal one-year limit on libel proceedings does not apply for stories archived on the web.

Court reports archived on websites are another danger area because they lose the legally privileged status of being a contemporaneous report.

Proudler said: “Reporting of criminal cases is a big potential problem – there is an argument for saying don’t put them on your website.”

Proudler also warned that publication online raises the prospect of being sued anywhere worldwide that the story is downloaded.

She cited a case currently under way in Canada in which a claimant is suing the Washington Post for libel over an article which has only been downloaded, and therefore published, by one person- his own lawyer.

Proudler said one possible option is to block articles from being read online in certain countries.

Dominic Ponsford and Jon Slattery report from the 2004 Law for Journalists conference

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