In what could prove to be a landmark case, UK Internet Service Provider Demon is being sued by a scientist for allegedly failing to remove a defamatory message from its server.
British particle physicist Laurence Godfrey alleges that a forged message containing defamatory information appeared in soc.culture.thai. Godfrey asked Demon to remove it, but the message remained on the server.
According to Godfrey's solicitor Nick Braithwaite, of law firm Bindman and Partners, the physicist has already taken separate action against individuals and ISPs in New Zealand, Canada and the US. In the Demon case, the message was posted by an individual posing as Godfrey. The messages are "of a personal nature relating to bad character", Braithwaite said.
Demon's defence is that of "innocent distribution" -- otherwise known as Section 1, The Defamation Act 1996 -- which relates to responsibility for publication. Bindman and Partners has requested that this defence be struck out.
The solicitor believes the outcome of the case will have major ramifications on the ISP industry. "If the ISP is found liable it will set a fairly strong precedent as to whether an ISP can ignore a complaint," Braithwaite said.
A spokesman for Demon said: "It's with the lawyers at the moment. There isn't much else to say."
Braithwaite believes Godfrey has a "strong case". A decision on whether the defence will stand is expected at the end of the week.