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Web Libel

Most of us have some understanding of the law of libel and that when comments are publishing that defame someone, it can result in being sued. However, it is surprising how many people think that libel law somehow, does not apply to the web or e-mail. Maybe it is because it is so easy to send an e-mail. One advantage of the snail mail is that when one finishes composing the letter, the anger has usually lessened and the wise person puts the letter in the waste paper basket. It might be a good idea to take a warning from a recent case, decided in Ontario Superior Court. This case involved a claim by a Thunder Bay City Clerk against a City Councillor, who made comments harmful to her reputation. The Councillor had posted these comments to a website. Justice Pierce decided for the first time, according to the reported cases, that by posting the comments, this was a "broadcast". The importance of this is that the damages can be much higher for libel which is broadcasted as opposed to sending the offensive material to several people. The reasoning behind this is the fact that information put on the web can reach a very wide audience. Luckily for the Councillor however, the lawsuit was started by the Clerk too late. There are limitation periods for most actions and in the case of libel, notice of a law suit must be served within 6 weeks of the libelled person becoming aware of the defamation and an action must then be started within 3 months. Thus the Judge dismissed that part of the claim relating to the posting on the website. (The case continues with respect to some libel that was sent by fax). Incidentally, it had been decided in an earlier case by the Ontario Court of Appeal that on line newspapers will be treated the same way as conventional newspapers under the Libel and Slander Act. At any rate, these cases are good examples of how the law can keep up with the times through our system of case law or judge made law. Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice.

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