Collins considers 'safe harbour' appeal
Website owners are not likely to be held liable if someone posts a comment on their site that breaches a new proposed cyber-bullying law, unless they then fail to remove it, Justice Minister Judith Collins has signalled.
Justice Ministry officials will also consider whether similar "safe harbour" provisions might be justified to clarify that website owners should be protected from other charges that can arise from comments sections, such as defamation, she said.
Collins was responding to a letter from a coalition of media and technology heavyweights and consumer groups, which included the Newspaper Publishers' Association, Trade Me and Telecom.
The letter said existing laws on liability for "user-generated content" were "inconsistent, unclear and in some cases unworkable" and that an overhaul was needed.
Website owners should not be held liable for defamation, cyber bullying, breaches of suppression orders, copyright infringement or other offences committed by people posting comments to their sites, the letter said.
That was unless the websites had received "clear and sufficient notice of the infringing content and had had the opportunity to assess and remove access to it".
The group said the Government's proposed Harmful Digital Communications Bill, which would be designed to tackle cyber bullying, represented an opportunity to clarify the liability issue.
The bill exists only in draft form and has yet to be introduced to Parliament for its first reading.
An "overarching safe harbour" clause could be included in the bill, modelled along the same lines as clauses adopted in the United States and the European Union, that would set out the responsibility of website owners under that and other legislation, the letter said.
Collins said she had referred the letter to Justice Ministry officials, who had been in "on-going engagement with internet agencies such as Trade Me" during the drafting of the Harmful Digital Communications Bill.
"I agree that the issue it raised is important because of the amount of user-generated content on the internet," she said.
"The bill is likely to contain a provision that would protect content hosts from criminal and civil liability for any harmful digital communications unknowingly hosted by them. I have asked officials to consider whether it would be appropriate for the provision to have a wider application covering, for instance, liability for defamation."
Some websites that attract many public postings, including Stuff, moderate them to filter out inappropriate and illegal content before they are put online, but others do not.
The other co-signatories to the letter, were NetSafe, InternetNZ, Consumer, the Telecommunications Users Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Kiwiblog editor David Farrar. "Clear 'notice and takedown' is widely accepted as a model that works well," they said.
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