European Court for Human Rights says internet portal operators responsible for insulting online posts
Today the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that the operators of internet portals are responsible for insulting commentaries posted online by their users. The judgment in the case of a large Estonian online news server could impact the operation of such portals in all the member states of the Council of Europe, which includes the Czech Republic.
The court decided today on the case of a dispute over abusive, threatening comments posted on the Delfi portal, one of the most-visited news servers in Estonia. In 2006, anonymous users of the portal insulted the operator of a ferry service to local islands who had used an icebreaker in the winter to continue his service.
By using the icebreaker, the ferry operator prevented the creation of cheaper, less time-consuming routes to the islands for cars driving directly on the ice. The transport company running the ferries sued the portal for publishing the anonymous insults.
The Estonian courts agreed with the ferry operator and in 2008 fined the Delfi portal 5 000 Estonian crowns (about EUR 300). Legal representatives for the news server defended themselves in the courts by arguing that the posts were protected as free speech.
The European Court of Human Rights, however, ruled that the operators of the Delfi portal did not remove the insulting commentaries rapidly enough. They did so only after being asked to by the transport company removing them six weeks after the articles underneath which the comments were posted had been published.
Today's judgment could influence the operators of internet pages in all 47 countries of the Council of Europe. Their members include the 28 Member States of the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and most countries in eastern and southeastern Europe, including Russia and Ukraine.
The judgment handed down today cannot be appealed. A similar verdict has previously been handed down by the Czech courts.
In February of this year a Czech court, for the first time ever, punished racism in the internet discussions posted beneath articles published by the tabloid server Parlamentní listy. Plaintiff Jaroslav Suchý successfully sued the publisher, OUR MEDIA, at the Prague Municipal Court over insults about him posted anonymously to the online discussion and was awarded damages of CZK 150 000 (EUR 5 500); that verdict has yet to take effect, as both sides have appealed.
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