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Strasbourg court judgement on liability for online user comments ‘threatens free speech’

The AEJ is one of many media and free speech organisations which express concern about the negative impact on open public debate of last Tuesday’s  judgment in the case of Delfi v. Estonia from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. The AEJ and 26 other organisations from around the world supported the Media Legal Defence Initiative in filing a  brief  on the case to the Strasbourg court in June 2014. It warned that imposing liability on intermediaries could result in news websites closing down their comments sections or proactively removing any comments that they think could be offensive, which would severely limit public debate.

MLDI reacted to the judgement of 16 June 2015 with a statement asserting that ‘holding organisations liable for user comments hampers freedom of speech’. MLDI also argued that the Court’s judgement contradicts existing Council of Europe standards and European Union law by creating a state of legal uncertainty that will be detrimental to the free flow of information, opinions, and ideas.

Read the whole MLDI statement here.

Lorna Woods, a Professor of Law at Essex University and an expert in the field of media and human rights, remarked following the landmark ruling from the Strasbourg court that the reasoning behind it appears to contradict the established approach to freedom of expression cases. Lorna Woods points to the argument of the dissenting judges in the Delfi case, that there is little difference between a strict requirement on intermediaries to monitor user generated content – as is implied by this judgement--and ‘blanket prior restraint’.

Read Professor Lorna Woods’ commentary on the LSE’s Media Policy Project blog.