Fallout from legal wrangling between Laurence Godfrey and Demon Internet continues apace, with the Internet service provider seemingly caught between freedom of speech and British laws governing the publication of potentially defamatory material.
The upshot is that some customers have had connections to newsgroups suspended after posting comments on the Godfrey situation - or in the case of Phil Payne, IT analyst with Isham Research, publishing a URL where interested parties can read some historical exchanges and conduct further correspondence.
"It seems that all you have to do to get your Demon Internet service suspended is to post a reference from a Demon Internet user ID to a public archive, Dejanews in this case," said Payne. "It's like being penalised for telling someone there's information on a particular subject in the British Library. It means that anyone can get access to information banned simply by alleging it's defamatory."
Payne said that at least 11 users have been suspended, including Kurt Adkins, a retired paramedic, who is scathing of Godfrey's use of litigation and the effect on Internet use in the UK.
He said: "Godfrey's approach is jeopardising freedom of speech via ISPs. Usenet etiquette is to either engage in debate, ignore it or ridicule the perpetrators. The course chosen by Godfrey has persuaded Demon Internet to go over the top."
Demon Internet's legal department issued a letter on 1 June, stating: "We have received information that your postings to newsgroups...contain a link to a Web site containing material which is alleged to be defamatory...Demon makes no judgement on whether the material is defamatory, but the law at present means that if an allegation is made that defamatory material is being published through our systems we must take action to prevent that material being published." "Failure to take such action would mean that both you and Demon Internet could be liable for substantial damages," it concluded.
"There are many free, high quality ISPs and US ISPs...but Demon Internet charges £10 a month and threatens customers with liability. They ought to have more sense," said Payne.
Alyssa White, Demon Internet's communications manager, said: "Each complaint is assessed individually and we looked at the URL after a complaint was made."
She added: "Godfrey is chasing this but the law needs to be clarified. The Internet is a different realm and the laws on defamation and directing someone to something that is potentially defamatory were not designed for this environment."
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