Is it freedom of speech or libel? You could find out in court
A significant number of people risk being taken to court for making libellous comments online, according to a leading lawyer.
The warning came after Michael Keith Smith, a UK independence Party candidate, was awarded £10,000 in a libel suit for defamatory comments made about him on an internet discussion board.
Although the matter was reported to Yahoo and postings made by Tracy Williams were removed, she continued to post defamatory remarks about Mr Smith.
Although she used a pseudonym on the discussion board, Mr Smith was able get a court order to force internet service provider ntl to give him the poster's details after he provided the IP details.
However these legal proceedings merely served to provoke her into more " frenzied abuse", said Judge Alistair Macduff.
In the UK, if someone thinks comments written about them is either defamatory or damaging, it is up to the writer of the comments to prove in court that what they had written was true or fair comment.
Ms Williams didn't show up in court or file a defence and Mr Smith was awarded £5000 general damages and a further £5000 because of the way that the accusations continued.
Ms Williams was also ordered to pay costs of £7500.
Graham Smith from the legal firm Bird & Bird said people should not get carried away by the relaxed atmosphere of the internet. If a comment would not be suitable for writing down in print, it should not be used for the internet.
Yahoo does make the dangers clear in the terms and conditions governing its message boards, highlighting that it forbids any kind of libellous comments. Yahoo also has a dedicated website where any abuses can be reported.
Any reports are investigated and the material removed if it is illegal. Yahoo was not involved in the court case.
People who are unsure if their comments are libellous or not can get advice on avoiding libel and defamation at the BBC Action network.
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