Defamation And The Internet

What can you do when someone publishes something about you that hurts your reputation?

Any words, pictures or other information which, when passed on to somebody else, lowers a person’s reputation in the public’s eye are defamatory and the person harmed may begin a lawsuit. The person harmed must only prove that the information was communicated to someone else and could have a defamatory meaning.

Once someone has made a case for defamation, the person they claim against must establish one of the following defenses:

  • Truth – If the information communicated on balance is true.
  • Fair Comment – The statements made consist of an opinion on a matter of public interest and is based on well known true facts. This is true as long as both the comments are actually believed or reasonably could be believed and that they do not deal with criminal activity.
  • Privilege – In some cases the law will provide some comments with special protection. Examples are witnesses in court, debates in government.
  • Consent – If the person harmed has consented to the defamatory communication.
  • Other Limited Exceptions – Such as a non-malicious employment reference.

A lawsuit may begin whether or not the person causing the defamation actually wrote the words or merely published someone else’s words.

The issue of defamation on the Internet is becoming significant.

An Internet service provider who hosts web sites may be a publisher and therefore liable for a defamation claim. At the moment, the Ontario Courts have not provided a definitive answer on this subject. This type of situation may be found to be similar to a librarian with defamatory works in their library. In the librarian’s case, there may be liability if the librarian makes defamatory works available and has reasonable grounds to be aware of their content. If you become aware of defamatory comments on a web site, you should contact the Internet service provider and advise them. They will then arguably have an obligation to remove the defamatory content or be liable for defamation.

Since the Internet has no borders, another significant issue is where to sue. Recent cases indicate that people outside of Canada have a right to protect their reputations in Canada and can therefore sue in Canada. Canadians can sue foreign publications provided those publications are also distributed in Canada. Suing someone who publishes in another country will depend on the laws of that country. This is a problem when a web site is hosted offshore. On the other hand, people publishing statements on the Internet have a real concern as to which country’s laws they follow, where they can be sued, etc. The law continues to evolve in this area and it is impossible to say what liability a person may have for statements made on the Internet. It’s best to be cautious.


Brimage Icon

Did you know?

  • Before entering a business partnership it’s important that a partnership agreement is drafted by an experienced business lawyer » Learn more
  • Keep your lawyer’s contact information on hand at all times just in case of a legal misunderstanding » Learn more
  • If you are arrested or detained you have the right to be told why you have been arrested or detained » Learn more
  • Sole proprietorship, partnership and incorporation all have their advantages and disadvantages » Learn more
  • Brimage Law Group is Norfolk County’s only law firm with dedicated business lawyers » Learn more
  • Civil claims have set limitation periods so it is important to file as soon as possible » Learn more
  • If a “limitation period” passes with no actions taken you could miss out on the compensation you deserve » Learn more
  • When buying a property all documents (from both lenders and realtors) should be run by an experienced real estate lawyer » Learn more
  • Always declare an alternative guardian for any minor children in case your first choice is unable to care for them » Learn more
  • Many lawsuits are settled before a trial begins » Learn more
  • Update your Will with every major change to your life, family or finances » Learn more
  • Additional expenses in real estate transactions should be transferred via certified cheque from your bank for the exact amount » Learn more
  • In custody agreements it’s important to include grandparents’ visitation rights » Learn more
  • You can write conditions into your Will to change it in the event of “special circumstances” » Learn more
  • It’s very important to have all your documents completed properly and to have your case accurately and thoroughly stated » Learn more
  • When selling a property have the utility companies do the final readings to avoid contest » Learn more

Stay Connected

Keep on top of all the Brimage news, events, and discussions. Or better yet, join the conversation.

Brimage Law Group Logo