“The libel lawyer’s Christmas present” was how one reviewer famously described The Gambling Man, the litigation-prone expose of the Waterhouse family, but I consider Online Publication Claims: A Practical Guide (edited by Hugh Tomlinson QC and Guy Vassall-Adams QC) would make a much more acceptable Christmas offering.
As a guide for practitioners bringing or defending media law civil claims arising out of online publication, this is a book that does what it says: provide comprehensive and readily accessible information about a range of practical considerations as well as a succinct summary of the legal issues in the United Kingdom, all for the Christmas-friendly low price of just over $60 (AUD) plus postage.
(I found this Australian price at Book Depository for the paperback; I assume it will become available electronically in due course).
The book falls into three main categories: a general introduction to the internet including jurisdiction and “right to be forgotten” issues; black-letter law chapters on causes of action and remedies; and the “practical” section of advice for those bringing (or defending) a claim.
To set this out in more detail:
For the complete beginner, there is the kind of really helpful introductory section that sets out a history and general description of the main features of the internet.
After this gentle start, Chapter 1 leaps over the cliff straight into take-down procedures, identifying site owners and understanding how the different platforms work.
This chapter was written by Dave King of Digitalis – one of this book’s interesting qualities is the talented range of authors.
This is followed by an explanation of the right to de-list (often referred to as “the right to be forgotten”) and jurisdiction issues.
The section on legal issues starts with an incisive consideration of Norwich Pharmacal orders, followed by two chapters on tort law issues, ranging from defamation to data protection, followed by separate chapters on specific defences to service providers and remedies.
Finally, the “practical” part of the book”, first for bringing and then for defending a claim, which set out the kind of hands-on practical warnings and explanations that are absolutely essential for anyone needing advice – and, in my opinion, is the best part of this really excellent publication.
The authors have taken a “one-stop-shop” approach to the material and included relevant legislation, policies and regulations.
For example, the chapter on the right to de-list contains the Article 29 Working Party criteria for de-listing, the relevant Google policies and the General Data Protection Regulation right to erasure.
Is there anything that they miss?
No, but as internet legal practice grows, this book will inevitably expand in both depth and content, and come to cover more topics.
For example, an issue a party may need to face early on is whether a criminal complaint against an unknown user should be made or there may also be entitlements to injunctive relief relevant to family law or children’s protection legislation; steps of this kind may be cheaper and easier than the expensive path of obtaining data from third parties based on tort law and civil procedural rules.
As this book enlarges (inevitably) in content and commentary in future editions, these may be topics for consideration.
There is no equivalent publication covering Australian law, and this publication comments only en passant in relation to Australian decisions (e.g. Bleyer v Google Inc and Google v Trkulja get a mention in relation to their differing interpretations of the reasoning in Metropolitan International Schools Ltd v Designtechnica Corp & Ors.
That is not a criticism of this book, but an illustration of how far Australian internet law lags behind that of other jurisdictions.
The data protection and privacy cases which dominate the UK legal landscape have yet to become features of the law relating to protection of reputation and personal rights.
Given the increasing globalisation of the law generally, the most sobering “take-away” from the book, is just how much further Australian law – and lawyers – have to travel.
The best way to start that journey is to open this book at page one and just keep going.
*Judith Gibson is the Defamation List Judge at the NSW District Court. Online Publication Claims: A Practical Guide edited by Hugh Tomlinson QC and Guy Vassall-Adams QC, Matrix Chambers, 2017. £34.99, currently $46.09 (US) $61.47 (AUD).
This post was originally published in the Gazette of Law and Journalism, Australia’s leading online media law publication.