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Internet cowboys keep an eye on test case

The world of dogs has always thrived on rumour and conjecture. When the internet arrived it quickly became a tool for the rumour mongers and those who visit the ‘breed chatrooms’ that taint the web will be acutely ware of the dross the pervades such sites.

But a landmark court ruling in Australia has alerted those who suffer defamatory statements on the web.

Judges who considered the case said that the financial publishers Dow Jones could be sued in the state of Victoria because of an article posted on a website.

The libel case brought by Joseph Gutnik, a mining tycoon, argued that the story could be read by people who knew him in Melbourne. the judgement could affect the way stories are carried as the resulting defamation costs could be huge.

The case came close on the heels of the David Beckham v Popbitch celebrity gossip website which was forced to withdraw a false rumour on its site following the threat of legal action.

In the High Court ruling in Canberra it was stated that the internet was no different legally than international news, TV or radio services. The judgement which applies only to Australia at present has attracted worldwide attention because of the principles involved.

A media lawyer in the national press described the case as a ‘wake up call’ to internet publishers some of whom have little experience and many of whom care less.

‘Authors already have a responsibility to be careful not to publish defamatory statements.

If they do, and they put them on the web, then there is no reason why they shouldn’t be liable worldwide’, said the lawyer.