As part of a uni project I am suggesting that our client set up a discussion forum like Geekzone for their community. Is there any specific law that protects commercial/not for profit forum owners here? Have there been any known problems...? Are they legally responsible for the posts of their community? Any information and advice appreciated.
(Disclaimer: What follows are general comments only - please do not rely on them as a substitute for legal advice. For all you know I am making this up.)
A publisher that has no knowledge (and can't fairly be said to ought to know) that defamatory material has been posted is not liable. It's the same reasoning that gives ISP a way out. Where a person moderates comments before they are posted, then the inference that they ought to know is easier to make (although, I would argue, not guaranteed).
From that case:
But it seems to me that there must be some action that amounts to a promotion of, or ratification of, the continuing presence of the defamatory material on the website.
The issue in the instant case is whether it can be said that the first defendant knew about the material on the website, occupied such a position vis a vis the website that it could have prevented the continued publication of the material and, by its inaction, associated itself with the publication in such a way that it apparently adopted or ratified the publication in the strict sense.
It follows that a site that reviews all comments before posting takes significantly more risk. There is still risk for sites that don't review comments, and as far as I know the point hasn't been finally decided. But I would take the above as starting authority for the proposition that an owner of an unmoderated board, where the owner or operator has been given no notice of any allegedly defamatory material (and wouldn't otherwise be expected to know) is not liable for defamation.
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