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Two day deadline for website operators to notify comment authors about defamation complaints

Website operators seeking to avoid liability for defamatory comments published on their sites would have two days, in general, to notify the authors of those comments about complaints they receive under new legislation drafted by the Government.18 Oct 2013

The draft new rules would work together with reforms to UK libel laws brought about under the Defamation Act. The Act received Royal Assent earlier this year but has yet to come into force in full.

Under defamation law, website operators can in some circumstances be pursued by those who claim they have been defamed as a result of comments on their site even if those operators are not the author of those comments. The new draft regulations set out the actions website operators must take when notified of the existence of defamatory comments on their site in order to avoid becoming liable for that material.

Upon notification, authors of the comments would have five days to issue a written response outlining whether they consent to the removal of the comments from the site. A failure to respond would place website operators under the obligation to delete the comments within 48 hours of that five day deadline expiring if they are to avoid exposure to liability.

When notifying authors that their comments are subject to defamation complaints, website operators would have to conceal the identity of the complainant from those authors if such anonymisation is sought by the complainants.

In cases where the authors do not consent to the removal of their comments, those individuals or businesses would be required to inform website operators of their name and address and tell the operator whether or not they consent to the handing over their details to the complainant. A complainant would have to be informed by the operator within 48 hours of an author's response and of the content of that response.

Website operators would be required to delete comments from their site within two days of receiving a notice of complaint if it has "no means of contacting the poster" through a "private electronic communication" channel, such as via email.

If authors that do respond to website operators' notifications of a complaint fail to provide details of their full name and address, the operators would have to remove their comments within two days of that response. If a "reasonable website operator" believes that details given by an author are "obviously false" then they must also delete the comments within the 48 hour deadline.

In cases where authors of defamatory comments repost the same or substantially similar comments after they have been removed twice before from the site, website operators would be obliged to remove the comments within 48 hours of receiving a notice of complaint.

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