Defamation Law in the Age of the Internet

The Internet revolution has allowed for instant mass communication across the globe at virtually no cost. It has altered the way we communicate in a fundamental and significant way, such that letters have been superseded by email, gossip at the water cooler now takes place in online chat rooms and noticeboards have been replaced with online forums and virtual walls. Casual communications that may previously have been in spoken form have shifted to the wider reaching written form such that even idle gossip online has the potential to be extremely damaging to an individual’s reputation. At common law anyone who is involved in the process of the publication of a libel is prima facie liable, a fact that most of the general public do not consider when they write emails, use social networking sites or participate in online forum discussions. Whilst the law must protect members of its society from potential harm public interest demands that this must be balanced against the need to protect our fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of speech. How do courts deal with this need for balance? What legal principles should be borne in mind when dealing with a case involving defamation online?

Detailed Information

Highlights of the course include:

  • An introduction to defamation law in Hong Kong as it relates to online publication
  • What is defamatory?
  • The distinction between slander and libel
  • In which jurisdiction should a claim be brought?
  • Forms of online defamation and liability of parties – originators, republishers, social networking account holders, website hosts, search engines and service providers
  • How to reconcile the tension between freedom of expression against the necessity to protect an individual’s reputation
  • Offer of Amends under section 25 Defamation Ordinance, Cap. 21
  • Defences of truth (justification), fair comment, privilege, public interest
  • Remedies, including damages
  • Recent Hong Kong cases relating to Internet defamation including:
    • Oriental Daily v Fevaworks [2013] HKFCA 47
    • Yeung Sau Shing Albert v Google [2014] 4 HKLRD 493 and [2015] 1 HKLRD 26
    • Jonathan Lu & Ors v Paul Chan Mo-Po & Ors (unreported) HCA 370/2012

*This course was originally scheduled on 13 September 2016

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