Social media and the law at 2015 Media and IP Law Conference

Who is responsible for a defamatory comment posted to a public Facebook page the author, the page administrator, both?

Harry Melkonian

Macquarie University's Harry Melkonian

Courtesy of a rise in the use of social media and inadequate laws to deal with its misuse, lawyers and academics are regularly tackling this debate in jurisdictions across the globe.

It was also a point of contention at the 2015 Media and IP Law Conference at Melbourne Law School on Monday.

University of Auckland’s Rosemary Tobin raised a New Zealand case in which judges unanimously ruled that a third party publisher (the administrator of a Facebook page that contained comments by others) was not liable for other people’s comments.

However, judges stated, Facebook pages will be liable for defamatory comments if the page owner knows about the comments and fails to remove them in a reasonable time.

Rosemary Tobin and Tarryn Wood

University of Auckland's Rosemary Tobin and lawyer Tarryn Wood

Lawyer Tarryn Wood said defamation laws often left too much uncertainty but it was important to find a balance between freedom of speech and protecting one’s reputation.

She also said Australia’s laws requiring proceedings to commence within a year of publication were made difficult to implement in the internet age, where an article first published several years ago is considered to be ‘republished’ every time it is viewed.

Macquarie’s Harry Melkonian said defamation defenses do not work and are difficult to understand, arguing for change.

“One of the hallmarks of the law is that it is a law of precedence and it is predictable,” he said.

“(So) why not bring defamation law more into line with tort law?”

“We need to take ourselves out of this mindset that this is unlike anything else; it is a relatively small piece of this whole spectrum of tort law.”

The conference, featuring speakers from as far as Asia, Europe and the United States, continues today.

By Andy Walsh