The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) today warned government ministers and the DTI that "ill-prepared legislation" in the controversial Demon defamation will have far reaching implications for ISPs, users and the UK's e-commerce plans.
ISPA has written to Trade and Industry Minister Michael Wills, DTI chiefs and the all-party Parliamentary Internet Group to arrange an urgent meeting. ISPA director general Nicholas Lansman said: "We're united in this case. We're incredibly concerned -- ISPs should not be liable for defamation simply by a notice from an individual."
The case centres on defamatory remarks posted in a news group on Demon's servers by a non-Demon customer purporting to be British scientist Laurence Godfrey. On Friday, Mr Justice Morland found in favour of Godfrey, rejecting the so-called 'innocent distribution' clause in the Defamation Act which is specifically designed to protect ISPs who have little or no control over the content published on their servers.
Demon has appealed against the ruling
Small ISPs stand to lose the most, according to Claire Gilbert, legal counsel at AOL and ISPA member. "It's a frightening scenario. They cannot afford to consult solicitors to check if content is defamatory on every notice. They'll be forced to scrub content off out of fear of being sued."
But the case has uncovered a more threatening issue. Over the past year, e-commerce and the Internet have been given an unusually high prominence -- featuring in the Queen's speech, Tony Blair's wired government plans and the Chancellor's Budget. But the same interpretative laws that dragged Demon into the High Court, may blight future e-commerce plans.
Demon Internet's managing director David Furniss warned that plans to put the UK at the forefront of the IT revolution were in jeopardy. "The lack of detailed understanding about technical issues worries us in terms of future legislation," he said, adding: "The government needs to consult with industry to frame laws properly otherwise massive commitment to e-commerce will be undermined."
This view was supported by ISPA's Lansman: "It's clear that the Government's aim to lead in e-commerce and the Internet will be affected."