With the development of blogging platforms, comment and discussion forums and content management systems, we are now creating more content than ever before.

It is a very exiting time, but this has caused a significant increase in the amount of defamation cases on the web.

On 1st January 2014, the Defamation Act 2013 came into force, which changes the way in which defamatory statements are dealt with, giving website operators greater protection against a complaint. For those of you that have or contribute to websites, write blog posts, actively use discussion forums or develop websites, this is something that you need to know about. Now, by no means are we experts in law, but here are a few basic but important facts about Defamation Act (Operators of Websites) 2013.

So to start, what is defamation?

“The action of damaging the good reputation of someone; slander or libel” www.oxforddictionaries.com

If a comment is made on your website that affects a person or business in a negative way, they can say the statement is defamatory. But, under the new regulations, the complaint must be able to show that their reputations have been seriously damaged by the statement, or if they trade for profit, that they are suffering a significant financial loss.

However, there are some exceptions in place that protects the website operator; the complaint can be opposed if the statement forms an opinion or is part of a comment on a matter of public interest, for instance.

But, what happens if the statement was not written by you?

Say, for example, you have a blog, and a guest blog post was written by a contributor, and it was that post that contained a defamatory statement. The Defamation Act 2013 has set aside guidelines that provides the website operator, and author of the statement with a chance to remove the comment.

This includes:

  •  Contacting the author of the statement within 48 hours of the complaint being made, and allowing five days for the author to respond. The operator must then remove the comment after the five-day period.
  • However, should the author refuse to allow for the statement to be taken down, and they provide a valid reason as to why in writing, the website operator must inform of the complaint of this within 48 hours, and the author’s contact details should be passed on to the complaint (as long as they grant permission).
  • If the operator does not have any way of contacting the author, they must, within 48 hours of receiving the complaint, remove the comment and notify the complaint.

By following this procedure, you, as the website operator, will not become liable for the alleged defamatory comment.  You can also protect your site  further by providing details of actions that will be taken against authors of alleged defamatory statements in the terms and conditions of  your website, and set in place a clear complaints procedure.

Another thing you should know is that, under the Defamation Act 2013, the time limit for making a complaint against a web operator is one year after the page or comment was published online, as opposed to being one year from the date that the statement was viewed or downloaded, which was the case before 1st January 2014.

To find out more about the Defamation Act 2013, what to do if you receive a complaint or if you believe a defamatory statement has been made against yourself or your business, visit legislation.gov.uk, or contact your solicitor.