Aussie defamation case ruling to be felt in NZ

An Australian court ruling that overseas web publishers can be sued for defamation in Australia, will be felt here says an Auckland lawyer.

An Australian court ruling that overseas web publishers can be sued for defamation in Australia, will be felt here says an Auckland lawyer.

As reported yesterday in IDGNet, (US website may face defamation lawsuit in Australia),US business publisher Dow Jones is being sued for defamation by Australian mining magnate Joseph Gutnick over the internet version of an article entitled "Unholy Gains" in Dow Jones' Barron's magazine.

Gutnick sued Dow Jones in his home state of Victoria but Dow Jones argued the case should be heard in the US because that's where the report was published. Two Australian courts have disagreed and now its High Court has rejected Dow Jones's appeal, saying the defamation occurred in Gutnick's home state of Victoria.

Lawyer Rick Shera, also deputy chair of InternetNZ, says the use of Australian precedent in New Zealand law is common.

"Yes, we do follow Australian law where it's applicable so I would expect this to be cited in New Zealand cases."

He says if he wanted to push for a case to be heard in the New Zealand jurisdiction he would refer to it.

Auckland law firm AJ Park's IT specialist, partner Ken Moon, agrees that the case will be felt here in New Zealand and says his company has been warning clients about the potential for this kind of case for several years.

"Ever since internet legal problems first arose we've been saying to clients that this exposes you to the laws of all the countries in the world and you've got to be a hell of a lot more careful than you used to be."

Moon says the ruling makes sense - otherwise you could only sue local publishers for defamation in your own country.

"If they didn't decide the case that way there's no way anyone could ever sue for defamation if the website was in any other country than their own. You could go to America and say 'we've been defamed' and the court there would say 'what's been said that's meant you've lost your reputation in our state?' and of course that person would never have had a reputation to lose in that state."

Meanwhile Australian press coverage is focussing on the impact the ruling will have on publishers around the world and whether they will be forced to edit their work for the Australian market. The Australian, owned by News Corporation which is a shareholder in New Zealand publisher INL, says the ruling "would have particular impact on US internet publishers operating under laws guaranteeing free speech." (Gutnick decision spooks internet).

The publishing company has also called for a review of Australian defamation laws in light of the ruling.

Related story

BBC Online - Q&A: Australia website ruling

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