Strasbourg rejects single publication

'Internet publication' rule held not to violate The Times' Convention rights

The European Court of Human Rights has unanimously held that the application of the "internet publication" rule, as opposed to the US single publication doctrine, does not violate Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The applicant, Times Newspapers Ltd, argued that the common law rule that each and every publication may found a cause of action restricted its ability to maintain a publicly accessible internet archive and exposed it to ceaseless liability. It also contended that, since qualified privilege was a complete defence to a libel claim, it was under no obligation to publish a qualification in respect of the relevant articles until litigation had been resolved.

The Court noted that while internet archives were an important source for education and historical research, the press had a duty to act in accordance with the principles of responsible journalism, including by ensuring the accuracy of historical information. The requirement to publish an appropriate qualification to the Internet version of the articles did not constitute a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of expression.

On the facts of the case, the Court did not consider it necessary to examine in detail the broader chilling effect allegedly created by the application of the "internet publication rule" but emphasised: "while an aggrieved applicant must be afforded a real opportunity to vindicate his right reputation, libel proceedings brought against a newspaper after a significant lapse of time may well, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, give rise to a disproportionate interference with press freedom under Article 10."

For the case report and full judgment, please click here.