Practical immunity for ISPs confirmed

High Court rules on liability for third party postings on the Web

The High Court has today ruled in favour of Internet Service Providers in a case that is likely to have significant impact on the scope of liability for libel and harassment claims based on material posted on the Web.


Mr Justice Eady handed down a comprehensive review of the law on responsibility for publication in the context of Internet Service Providers, and in particular postings made by customers on the Internet over the internet access service provided to them by their ISP.


The Court ruled that, short of knowing participation in a defamatory posting made by a customer, ISPs enjoy practical immunity against libel and harassment claims based on Internet content generated by a customer.


The Judge found that, first and foremost, an ISP should not be treated ordinarily at common law as the “publisher” of its customer’s posting.  But beyond this, the 2002 Electronic Commerce Regulations provide real protection to ISPs, whether their role is as “mere conduit”, holding a temporary “cache”, or even as a “host” of defamatory material (for example, at a newsgroup or chatroom) but without notice.  Further, section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996 may be equally applicable in the absence of effective notice of wrongdoing.


5RB‘s Jonathan Barnes and Sapna Jethani acted for respectively Tiscali UK Ltd and British Telecommunications plc, two of the ISPs involved.

Click here for the 5RB case summary and full judgment .