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UK Mag Editor to Challenge 'Net Libel' Law
 
THE editor of UK radical current affairs magazine Outcast has begun a legal challenge to amend the law that holds Internet Service Providers (ISPs) liable for the content of all websites they host.  It will be the first European Court case concerning freedom of expression on the Internet.

Chris Morris will argue that the current law effectively prevents small magazines and individuals from publishing controversial articles on the Internet.  Outcast's own website was suspended two weeks ago because lawyers for a rival magazine warned Outcast's ISP, NetBenefit PLC, that an article due to appear on the site next month might be defamatory to their client.  The site was closed down immediately and is now hosted in exile on a server in America.

Mr. Morris will be represented by David Price, a leading libel lawyer, who will argue that the current law breaches Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights - the right to freedom of speech.

Mr. Morris said today:  'The current law is unworkable.  Whereas editors can make informed decisions about whether to publish controversial articles, having heard all the evidence, ISPs can only decide whether or not they trust the word of the journalist.  It would be very expensive for them to fact check every article, so they err on the side of caution.

"Ministers have been unable to give an assurance that this issue will be given parliamentary time.  A legal challenge seems to me to be the only way to put this issue on the agenda, and ensure that the law is clarified.

"My case will not make it any easier for journalists to publish libellous or dishonest material.  I believe that journalists and editors must always be held to account.  But we should be accountable to the courts, not to an ISP whose only interest in the article is a commercial one."