We have recently posted about “Wikileaks, Public Domain and the Internet“. As we mentioned at the end of that post even for newspapers, the internet is becoming the centre stage for dissemination of news.  This has obvious and wide ranging implications for media law and regulation.

Alexa.com is a web information website that ranks all websites globally, by country and by category region. For the UK the top 20 websites are as follows:

  1. Google.co.uk
  2. Facebook.com
  3. Google.com
  4. Youtube.com
  5. BBC.co.uk
  6. Yahoo!
  7. Ebay.co.uk
  8. Windows Live
  9. Amazon.co.uk
  10. Wikipedia
  11. Twitter.com
  12. Blogger.com
  13. Msn.com
  14. LinkedIn
  15. PayPal
  16. The Guardian
  17. The  Mail Online
  18. WordPress.com
  19. Amazon.com
  20. Bing

These rankings may now be slightly out of date since it appears from the ABC figures that the Mail Online has overtaken the Guardian. Perhaps not surprisingly most of these websites are US based.

Apart from the main news websites themselves and the search engines, many article are syndicated abroad to other news websites and often they just repeated/lifted with or without a credit.  Often the originating news websites are liable for the repetition of the offending material.  The news articles will also be republished on internal news databases and external commercial news databases. We have set out a few of the main news databases here:

Dialog:  Dialog has data from more than 800 million unique records of key information, accessible via the Internet or through delivery to enterprise intranets. Content areas include aerospace, biomedical research, biotechnology, business and finance, chemicals, energy and environment, food and agriculture, government regulations, intellectual property, medicine, news and media, pharmaceuticals, reference, social sciences, and science and technology.

Lexis Nexis Lexis Nexis has a very large news database in addition to their legal services.

Press Display:  Press display displays  are exact copies of the printed version  of any newspapers and these are often available for viewing internationally at pressdisplay.co.uk before they appear on the local newsstand.

Factiva.com: This is a news database operated by Dow Jones which is now part of News Corps.

The most important source of Internet information for most users is Google.  The Google.co.uk service is operated by the US company although there is a worlwide network of Google servers.  Many of the US companies have UK offices and operate sensible takedown policies. Google however usually restrict their removal of material to the country of complaint, since it can restrict foreign versions of the material being accessed in say the UK.  Legal complaints to Google may result in the complaint being sent to the Chilling Effects website.

Where information about the identity of an anonymous user is required,  Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft  and Yahoo, although based in the US, will normally release data and information on receipt of a court order and they generally do not oppose such court orders for disclosure. In urgent cases they will disclose relevant data within 24 hours of receipt of a court  order.  There are a number of important related Court decisions :

G and G v Wikimedia Foundation [2009] EWHC 3148 (QB), [2010] EMLR 14 decision of Mr Justice Tugendhat regarding disclosure orders.

Metropolitan International Schools Limited v Designtechnica Corporation and Google [2009] EWHC 1765 (QB); [2009] EMLR 27, [2009] where Eady J held that Google were not liable as publishers in defamation  for their search results. Tugendhat J later awarded £50,000 damages against the first defendant for libel (see our posts here and here).

Lockton v Persons Unknown [2009] EWHC 3423 (QB). In this case it was held that Norwich Pharmacal relief is substantive relief and therefore an application for permission to serve out did not offend against the principle that jurisdiction could not be asserted against a party resident abroad purely for the purposes of disclosure of documents.

Finally, for practitioners interested in this area we drawn attention to the forthcoming publication of the 3rd Edition of The Law of Defamation and the Internet by Australian barrister (and 1 Brick Court door tenant) Dr Matthew Collins.  We will review this in a later post.