Saracens Blog

What is the Single Publication rule and how does this affect Internet libel?

Under the Defamation Act, defamation is defined as intentional communication offalse statements that adversely affect an individual’s reputation. Written defamation is referred to as ‘Libel’ and oral defamation is referred to as ‘Slander’.
The Single Publication rule falls under the Defamation Act and is a principle adoptedby the Courts when dealing with litigation cases.
The Defamation Act imposes limits such as these to circumvent the flow of frivolous defamation cases.
The Single Publication rule can be defined as a principle which setsout that any form of mass communication, which may be repeatedly published (invarious formats) after it was originally released, counts as a single publication.
This in turn limits a claimant to bringing only one action against a defendant as opposed tomultiple claims which is possible under the multiple publication rule. So in essencethe claimant becomes disadvantaged as defamatory material that is published online,could remain in the public domain even if successful action was bought against the original author.
The Defamation Act and it’s principle of the Single Publication rule can be applied towritten and oral statements but there is a grey area when considering if it should applyto defamatory material that is published online.
The Single Publication rule under the Defamation Act would allow hosts of defamatory material to escape liability if action had been previously bought againstthe original publisher, regardless of whether it was successful or not.
To redress this imbalance the Defamation Act allows for fresh action to be bought against those who re publish material in another format e.g. newspaper to online orquote the original article when creating a new one; the liability is effectively shifted from the old publisher to the new. The Defamation Act also imposes obligations onpress and broadcast media to retract defamatory statements however any defamatory material published by a broadcaster online, is exempt from this obligation.
The single publication rule in relation to Internet libel remains a controversial area;most Courts in England and Wales adopt a stance which allows for the Single Publication rule to be applied to the Internet but the Defamation Act imposes certain obligations that ensure potential claimants are not unfairly disadvantaged when attempting to bring action against defamatory material.

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