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Australian Internet Liability Case Resurfaces

On December 11, 2002, I posted on the High Court of Australia’s ruling in the Internet defamation case Dow Jones and Company v. Gutnick. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Barron’s (owned by Dow Jones) news bureau editor/reporter Bill Alpert (the author of the article at issue in the case) filed a complaint with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Alpert contends that “that Australian libel law infringes upon [his] rights…as enumerated under Article 19 of the Covenant, which deals with freedom of expression.” The case is of particular interest “because it exemplifies the problems that can occur when information disseminated globally on the Internet comes into conflict with the existing patchwork of local libel laws and judicial jurisdictions.”
For reference, the text of Article 19 states the following:

  • 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  • 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
  • 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
    (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
    (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
  • See also: Gutnick and beyond.

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