Corporate Websites: Be careful who you’re linking with

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The English High Court has opened up the possibility that, even if a website is not itself defamatory, if it hyperlinks to a different website which is defamatory, the operator of the originating website could still be liable for alleged defamatory postings on the hyperlinked website. This represents a further reason to be cautious about linking to external sites from a corporate website. The case also illustrates the issues faced by internet service providers (ISPs) in establishing defences to liability claims under UK law.

The case which triggered this ruling is McGrath v Dawkins and others [2012]. The case arose after Chris McGrath self-published a book called The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need to Know under the name “Scrooby”. In an attempt to market his book, McGrath posted a purported review of a book by Professor Stephen Hawking on Amazon UK’s website criticising Professor Hawking’s book and plugging his own book. This “review” generated a lot of comments and one of the most active participants in the thread was a Mr Jones. He exposed McGrath as the author of the Scrooby book and, in the context of a heated online debate with McGrath, criticised him with such words as “fraud” and “phony” and characterised him as a “creationist”. Jones then opened a thread on the richarddawkins.net website on the same topic.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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