US website may face defamation lawsuit in Australia

The High Court of Australia ruled yesterday that a story published by Dow Jones & Co on a US-hosted website can be grounds for a defamation lawsuit against the story to be heard in Australia, as the story was downloaded and viewed in Australia.

          The High Court of Australia ruled yesterday that a story published by Dow Jones & Co on a US-hosted website can be grounds for a defamation lawsuit against the story to be heard in Australia, as the story was downloaded and viewed in Australia.

          The ruling from Australia's highest court, that content created in one country can be subject to the laws of another country where it is viewed, has been regarded by local media as an important test case which opens up a host of legal issues over internet content publication.

          The defamation lawsuit was brought by Australian mining magnate Joseph Gutnick over the internet version of an article entitled "Unholy Gains" in Dow Jones' Barron's magazine.

          Gutnick filed the suit in the Supreme Court of his home state of Victoria in Australia, saying that the article's appearance on the internet enabled it to be accessed by people in Victoria, thereby defaming him where he is best known.

          Two Victorian courts rejected Dow Jones' application that the lawsuit should be heard in the US, and the High Court has now rejected the publisher's appeal against those earlier decisions.

          The principal issue debated in the appeal was where the material of which Gutnick complained was published -- whether in the US state of New Jersey, where Dow Jones' web servers are located, or in Victoria, where some readers saw the story and alerted Gutnick to its contents -- the High Court said in its ruling.

          "The torts of libel and slander are committed when and where comprehension of the defamatory matter occurs," the High Court said in its ruling, citing several precedents.

          "The rules have been universally applied to publications by spoken word, in writing, on television, by radio transmission, over the telephone or over the internet."

          "The appellant's [Dow Jones] submission that publication occurs, or should henceforth be held to occur relevantly at one place, the place where the matter is provided, or first published, cannot withstand any reasonable test of certainty and fairness.. ...what the appellant seeks to do, is to impose upon Australian residents for the purposes of this and many other cases, an American legal hegemony in relation to internet publications."

          The High Court dismissed Dow Jones' appeal with costs.

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