social media law

Engage with social media, businesses advised

I was quoted in The Star on 27 September 2012 over my presentation on “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: Social media add a new dimension to online advertising, marketing and brand integrity”.

Engage with social media, businesses advised

KUALA LUMPUR: Businesses must engage with the social media to remain relevant, a conference heard.

Speaking at the International Malaysia Law Conference, Paul Subramaniam recommended that businesses have a social policy at work, including on staff posting disparaging remarks about the company, setting up a dedicated team to monitor social media sites and creating a rapid response team.

“Time is critical. One day is an eternity in social media,” he said at the “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: Social media add a new dimension to online advertising, marketing and brand integrity” topic at the conference yesterday.

Businesses, he added, should also be prepared to have an external legal team in case of a crisis.

He noted that injunctions were necessary to get the message across and defend one’s rights, although they might not be very useful in social media.

“The laws are not ready. There is still a long way to go,” he said when referring to the redefinition of rights, privacy limitations and copyright issues online.

Another speaker, Alex Charlton, QC, urged caution when ticking the consent box on social media sites to ensure that one did not inadvertently agree to sharing data with the world.

Meanwhile, speaker Foong Cheng Leong stressed on the importance to constantly engage with customers and to respond to comments and not delete them.

“It is important to address complaints promptly and to reply with courtesy and good English. We cannot prevent social media but we can prepare for it and have a contingency plan,” he said.

Foong said consumers’ grievances vented online often sparked heated comments on social media sites.

PDF Download    Send article as PDF   

The Legal Implications of Social Media: Defamation and Libel

Foong Cheng Leong, Senior Associate, Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill discusses the legal aspects of social media, focusing in particular on online defamation, admissibility of online data in courts, cybersquatting, domain disputes, and whether there should there be regulation of the Internet and social media, whether directly or indirectly.

He also discusses the fine line between fair Internet policing and control over the Internet, proposed Amendments to the PPPA and the perceived threats to online publications and bloggers.

He also talks about the Malaysian Personal Data Protection Act 2010 (not in force yet) and explains its implications for the ordinary layman.

Create PDF    Send article as PDF   

Life Online Show 16: Naughty things

Podcast interview at the Life Online Show podcast on 2 February 2011.

The following topics were discussed with host John Lim, David Wang from theclickstarter.com, David Lian from Text100, journalist Niki Cheong:

1) Groupon coming into Malaysia by acquiring GroupsMore.com

2) Google establishing a bigger foothold in Malaysia with an office in KLCC.

3) The Malaysian Prime Minister has sent citizens Chinese New Year greetings, but how did he get their e-mail addresses in the first place?

PDF Creator    Send article as PDF   

Blog postings can backfire

First published on The Star Newspaper on 20 January 2011.

PUTIK LADA
By FOONG CHENG LEONG

Social media influence has hit court proceedings, with lawyers trolling blogs and Wikipedia in search of material that can help them argue the case for their clients.

LAST year brought further interesting development to social media and laws all around the world. Cases making references to social media tools saw an increase.

Social media was a tool for lawyers and litigants to help parties to fight their cases. Social media was also the cause of some parties’ mortification and incarceration.

In one High Court judgment last year, the judge recognised the publication of defamatory blog postings by a husband as one of the grounds to present a divorce petition before the expiry of two years from the date of marriage.

He also recognised that a defamatory statement in a blog posting operated in a borderless realm, and would continue to exist until the maker of the blog removed it.

The challenge against the constitutionality of S. 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the provision commonly used against Internet users, was dismissed by the High Court.

In this case, the defendant was charged with making disparaging remarks against the Sultan of Perak during the struggle between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. The court held, among other things, that the section did not impede freedom of expression. S. 233 is to ensure that the freedom given by the Constitution is exercised responsibly.

The use of Wikipedia as a reference is increasingly recognised in Malaysia, notwithstanding that the reliability of Wikipedia is questionable, as anyone can add or edit an entry in Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, the reliance on Wikipedia by our courts can be traced in reported cases as early as 2007.

Last year Wikipedia was referred to in Etonic Garment Manufacturing Sdn Bhd v Kunn-G Freight System (M) Sdn Bhd [2010] 1 LNS 13 (for the meaning of freight forwarder), PP v Murugan a/l Arumugam [2009] 1 LNS 1759 (for the meaning of atherosclerosis) and Thai Long Distance Telecommunication Co Ltd & Anor v Malaysian Maritime Dredging Corpo­ration Sdn Bhd (Kuala Lumpur Suit No: D-22-352-2005, for the meaning of chart datum).

Social media influence had also hit court room proceedings. It is common in Malaysia for people, in particular reporters, to tweet live from the courts. In the United Kingdom, the Lord Chief Justice issued a guideline for the use of live text-based forms of communication from court.

In this guideline, the Lord Chief Justice approved the use of Twitter for court reporting. However, in the US, certain courts ban the use of social media by juries.

In the US case of Romano v. Steelcase Inc, 2006-2233 (N.Y. Super. Sept. 21, 2010), Kathleen Romano sued Steelcase Inc for injuries she suffered after she fell off an allegedly defective desk chair manufactured by Steelcase Inc.

As a result of the fall, she claimed, she suffered restricted movement of her neck and back and “pain and progressive deterioration with consequential loss of enjoyment of life”.

In defence, Steelcase applied to access Romano’s current and historical Facebook and Myspace pages and accounts which are believed to be inconsistent with her claims in the action concerning the extent and nature of her injuries, especially for loss of enjoyment of life. The court granted Steelcase’s application.

Similarly, in McMillen v Hummingbird Speedway Inc, et al, Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, Civil Division, No. 113-2010 CD, Opinion on Defendants’ Motion to Compel Discovery (Sept. 9. 2010), the plaintiff sued the defendants for injuries suffered.

The defendants claimed that posts on the public portion of his Facebook page showed that he had exaggerated his injuries. The court granted the defendants access to the plaintiff’s private portion of his Facebook and Myspace account to determine whether or not the plaintiff had made any other comments which impeached and contradicted his disability and damages claims.

Closer to home, in a reported Industrial Court case, an employee claimed that she was forced by her employer to resign.

In response, her employer argued that the resignation was voluntary and they produced extracts of the claimant’s blog which showed the claimant had written about her feelings regarding her employment with the employer.

In it, she stated that she wanted to leave the company and admitted that she went for job interviews as she had already decided to go away.

The Industrial Court chairman relied on the blog entries to find that the employee had intended to leave and found that she had gladly tendered her resignation to take on new employment.

In Australia, a hairdresser won compensation for wrongful dismissal after losing her job for making unflattering remarks about her employer on her Facebook.

In Miss Sally-Anne Fitzgerald v Dianna Smith T/A Escape Hair Design [2010] FWA 7358, Commissioner Michelle Bissett for Fair Work Australia said that posting comments about an employer on a website (Facebook) that can be seen by an uncontrollable number of people is no longer a private matter but a public comment.

It would be foolish of employees to think they may say as they wish on their Facebook page with total immunity.

This year brings another exciting watershed to Malaysia’s social media legal sphere. The Personal Data Protection Act 2010, which governs the processing of personal data, is pending enforcement.

Proposed amendments to the Copyright Act 1987 have been drawn up in the form of a Bill to exempt Internet service providers from liability for copyright infringement under certain circumstances.

The Bill also empowers the court to order an Internet service provider to disable access to infringing material.

Furthermore, the so-called Internet Service Providers Liability Act may be passed to compel Internet service providers to take action against their users if they download songs or movies illegally.

PDF    Send article as PDF   

Internet Service Provider Liability Act: Do we need one?

An analysis of the potential repercussions of the proposed Internet Service Provider Liability Act.

Recently, The Star reported that the Malaysian Parliament will be tabling the ISP Liability Act (”Act”). According to The Star, the Act makes internet service providers (ISPs) responsible for curbing online piracy. The ISP will be fined if they don’t take action against illegal downloaders.

The ISP will send two warning letters to illegal downloaders. Should the downloaders persist, their internet access will be suspended or even terminated.

It is unclear at this juncture on how far-reaching the Act would be. Will it cover all methods of downloading copyrighted materials, such as music and movies, or only through P2P file sharing software? If a user streams videos or music through a website, would they be caught under this Act? Technically in such case, there is a download of copyrighted materials into a user’s computer.

It is also unclear at this juncture on how the Act would require ISPs to monitor their users’ activities. Are they compelled to keep track of all their users’ internet activities? Or would there be a need for active participation of intellectual property rights (IPR) holders to tell the ISPs that certain IP addresses are infringing their rights, so that the ISPs can reveal the users’ details?

How it works

Making ISPs responsible for their users’ actions is not something common. Jurisdictions such as United States of America and United Kingdom have laws in place to compel ISPs to take action their users.

In some jurisdictions, IPR holders would engage a third party to monitor the internet to see whether anyone is sharing copyrighted files online. If they detect someone, they will obtain the IP address, and thereafter pass it to the relevant ISPs for them to take action against their user. If the user persists notwithstanding that warning letters have been issued, the ISPs may suspend or terminate the user’s internet access.

This is also commonly known as graduated response, or in another words the “three strikes rule”.

Repercussions

It is argued that such a law would curb online piracy. Thousands of people are dependant on the music and movie industries, and online piracy is affecting these industries severely. I do not deny that online piracy has affected these industry, but the objective of this article is to show that the repercussions of such a law are severe to internet users.

What has happened in jurisdictions containing such a law is a good indication on where the implementation of such a law will take us.

In many cases, IPR holders take additional steps against alleged online infringers. IPR holders would normally request for the identity of the internet user (normally after obtaining a Court order) from the ISPs. Some ISPs are ready to divulge such information, whereas some ISPs put up a fight. Once the identity of the user is revealed, the IPR would initiate action against the user and such active enforcement has caused terrible impact on users.

In the United Kingdom, it was reported that IPR holders will send a letter to illegal file sharers demanding payments of between GBP500 and GBP700, failing which the file sharer will be brought to Court. In the United States, a lady decided to fight it out with the recording industry instead of settling out of Court after being accused of encouraging the illegal sharing of songs. She lost the case, and was fined US$220,000. It is a classic case of David against Goliath.

Such a law will also affect internet users who do not know that their internet connection has been piggy-backed by third parties. There are many cases where users do not know that someone has used their internet connection — especially those with unsecured Wi-fi connection — and subsequently receive a demand letter for an offence they did not commit. This happened to a 78 year old man in the United Kingdom, who received a demand letter from a lawyer accusing him of downloading pornography. The 78 year old man didn’t even know what file-sharing was!

At this juncture, we do not know whether the Act would provide for a defence of innocent infringement. But the fact that one can receive a demand letter from lawyers for something that one has not done is quite frightening.

Children are now exposed to the internet at very young age. They may not know that their act of sharing and downloading music or videos will cause serious repercussions to them. A child would obviously choose to download the latest single of Justin Bieber from the internet instead of begging and pleading with his or her parents to buy it. One would argue that we ought to teach our children against online piracy. But all parents know that not all of their advice is always heeded.

In Singapore, it was reported that Odex Pte Ltd, a distributor of Japanese anime in Singapore, had issued demand letters to children as young as 9 years old accusing them of illegal downloads. Further, in the United States, 16 year old Whitney Harper was sued by the recording industry after she was found sharing music via a P2P file sharing program. She claimed that she didn’t know the program she used was taking songs from the internet illegally. Notwithstanding that, judgement was entered against her.

The enactment of the Act would also be another deterioration of our (almost non-existence) privacy rights. Malaysian laws do not recognize invasion of privacy rights as an actionable wrongdoing (see Ultra Dimenson Sdn Bhd v. Kook Wei Kuan [2004] 5 CLJ 285; Dr Bernadine Malini Martin v MPH Magazine Sdn Bhd & Ors and Another Appeal [2010] 7 CLJ 525; and Lew Cher Pow @ Lew Cha Paw & 11 yang lain lwn. Pua Yong Yong & Satu Lagi [2009] 1 LNS 1256) except in very limited circumstances (Maslinda Ishak v. Mohd Tahir Osman & Ors [2009] 6 CLJ 655).

ISPs are the “guardians” of our rights of privacy. They hold the key to our identity in the internet. Our identity, surfing habits and internet activities are our personal data and ISPs ought to give priority of such data over commercial interest of others.

By giving access to our personal data to third parties, our privacy is at risk, and such a risk is real. Recently, ACS:Law, a law firm specialising in taking action against file sharers in the United Kingdom, had accidentally divulged information of thousand of broadband users who were accused of illegal file sharing. The information that was leaked were unencrypted Excel spreadsheets, listing the names and addresses of people that ACS:Law had accused of illegally sharing media. One contained details of customers whom they had accused of illegally sharing pornography!

In light of the ACS: Law case, some ISPs in the UK resist efforts to divulge customer details to IPR holders. I urge the same is followed by our local ISPs in order to protect internet users’ privacy.

It should be remembered that customer data is protected under the upcoming Personal Data Protection Act 2010, which provides for a fine or imprisonment or to both in the event of a breach.

Lawyers appointed to act for IPR holders should also be vigilant when dealing with internet users. Solicitors who had been representing IPR holders were subject to public humiliation and harassment by internet users.


A partner of ACS: Law, one of the main targets.

Assuming that the Act would push through in any event, I urge our local ISPs to only take action or to provide customer information to IPR holders if they are satisfied that –

1. there is strong evidence to show infringing act has been committed by user, if possible only provide information if infringement is on a large or commercial scale or for commercial gain;
2. the requester’s storage system is secure, and they have given an undertaking that information will be kept securely e.g. encrypted;
3. the requester will only use that information for the purpose of pursuing legal action only and not to published it anywhere else; and
4. the requester is compelled to give access to the information obtained from ISPs to customers to ensure that a fair case can be fought.

Closing

I am not a file sharing advocate, and I do not condone internet piracy. I am only seeking to raise awareness of the repercussions of such a law. I hope what I have mentioned above is considered by the law and policy makers.

I would like to express my gratitude to David Wang of Blogjunkie.net for raising this issue on his blog.

PDF Printer    Send article as PDF   

Stemlife Berhad v Bristol-Myers Squibb (M) Sdn Bhd & Arachnid Sdn Bhd

First published on 10 August 2009

CIVIL SUIT NO S6-23-95-2008 (HC)

Arachnid Sdn Bhd (“Arachnid”) provides web development and related services. In 2003, Bristol-Myers Squibb (M) Sdn Bhd (“Bristol-Myers”) engaged Arachnid to set up a website, www.meadjohnsonasia.com (“the website”). Arachnid thereafter also provided maintenance services for the website.

The website hosts a forum known as the Asian Mom Network (“the forum”), a platform for Asian parents to share tips and views on parenting.

In 2007, Stemlife Berhad (“Stemlife”) brought an action against Arachnid for online defamation, alleging the latter was responsible for certain defamatory statements made by users of the forum.

Arachnid sought to strike out Stemlife’s suit on the basis that it disclosed no reasonable cause of action or was frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process of the court.

The High Court in Kuala Lumpur struck off the claim by Stemlife. This case highlights the extent of liability for online defamation in Malaysia.

The court held that Stemlife’s suit had no reasonable cause of action on the grounds that:

a) Arachnid’s role was simply to set up and maintain the website for Bristol-Myers. Arachnid is Bristol-Myers’ web agency and the website belongs to Bristol-Myers;

b) Arachnid was not the author and editor of the words complained of. Stemlife had identified the authors as being the forum users, and one of the defamatory statements did not appear on the website but through a hyperlink to another website. Therefore, Arachnid could not be the publisher of the words complained of; and

c) Arachnid, which merely provides the service of setting up and maintaining a website, could not be held responsible as a “publisher” under the law of defamation.

Further, the suit by Stemlife was frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process of the court in that:

(a) Arachnid was engaged by Bristol-Myers to set up the website;
(b) Arachnid provided maintenance services, including providing updates and upgrades upon the instruction of Bristol-Myers. The court held that it was not sufficient to attach liability on the part of Arachnid;
(c) There was no participation by Arachnid in the promotion of the forum;
(d) The contents of the website would not be within the knowledge of Arachnid, unless informed by Bristol-Myers;
(e) Arachnid did not control content posted on the forum, nor did it moderate or monitor the forum. Any postings on the website would only be removed upon the instruction of Bristol-Myers; and
(f) Stemlife had not shown as to how Arachnid contributed to, or was “knowingly” involved in, the publication of the words complained of.

The court also held that Arachnid had no control over the contents of the website, and had never played an active role in respect of the publication. Neither would Arachnid have knowledge of the contents of the words posted on the website.

Based on the above reasons, the High Court allowed the application by Arachnid to strike out Stemlife’s writ and statement of claim, which it dismissed with costs.

Free PDF    Send article as PDF   

Tweet at your own risk

Published in The Star Newspaper on 21 January 2010

The explosion in Internet-based social networking – fuelled by ease of DIY publishing – is throwing up new challenges, business and legal, to the online community.

THE year 2009 marked an important year for social media networking. It brought change to politics, society and business.

Many politicians set up their own Twitter accounts to connect with the masses.

Many companies – from multinational companies to our local restaurants – set up accounts on social media networking websites to publicise their business, and even to manage consumer complaints.

Malaysian company MOL Global Pte Ltd entered into an agreement with Friendster, Inc to acquire 100% of Friendster.

Also launched was Project Alpha, Malaysia its first online TV show about Malaysian bloggers.

Social media, designed to be disseminated through social interaction, is created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques, Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.

Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, videos, ratings and bookmarking (Source: Wikipedia). Examples of social media networking websites or tools are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Friendster.

With social media websites rising in popularity, there are now more content generators on the Malaysian online community. Publishing content, once a technical and time consuming task, has been simplified; users merely need to enter text and click a button to publish.

Is Malaysian law able to cope with such changes?

The law governing online activities remains the same. Content generated through social media websites are still governed by laws on defamation, trade mark, copyright, and as well as the Computer Crimes Act 1997, Communi­cations and Multimedia Act 1998, and so on.

Internet users should be vigilant when posting updates, blog entries, tweets, comments and emails.

Even a 140-character limit tweet may get you into trouble. For example, Courtney Love, the widow of Kurt Cobain, was sued by her former clothes designer for defamation, invasion of privacy and inflicting of emotional distress for “an extensive rant” on Twitter about how she was billed for custom clothing.

Social media websites or tools have also been used to attack others. Some users think they can hide incognito behind the screen. However, some were unmasked and had to endure severe punishment.

In 2008, in the case of Applause Store Productions Limited & Anor v Grant Raphael [2008] EWHC 1781 (QB), the claimants were awarded £22,000 in damages against Raphael, an old school friend, who had created a false personal profile of the claimants on Facebook.

Back home, in July 2009, a former bank employee was charged with posting vile and indecent material in a blog with intent to annoy another colleague. He was fined RM8,000, in default two months’ jail.

Making a complaint against malicious users is now fairly easy and can even be done online – at http://aduan.skmm.gov.my, the website of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC) complaints bureau.

In the face of severe punishments, malicious users will take all sorts of steps to keep their identity secret. They may use fake names and emails, proxy servers, and also install devices to ensure that their identity cannot be traced. However, they are not safe from the long arm of the law.

In the case of The Author of a Blog v Times Newspaper Limited [2009] EWHC 1358 (QB), a blogger sought an interim injunction in the English court to restrain Times Newspapers Ltd from publishing any information that would or might lead to his identification as the person responsible for a blog.

The blogger argued that his anonymity protected him against any action being brought against him. His application failed. The judge commented that blogging is a public activity and any right of privacy would likely be outweighed by public interest in revealing his activities.

Anything posted on the Internet will stay on the Internet. It will travel and be read by other people. Nothing is ever private on the Internet.

A clear example is the case where a former high school teacher in the US was forced to resign over photos and expletives on her Facebook page. The page had photos of her holding wine and beer and an expletive.

Although one may argue that it is one’s right of privacy to have one’s personal activities protected, the law does not prevent others from doing so.

Trade marks and trade names have also been highly abused in social media websites. Many users register their username using trade marks or trade names of other companies or individuals.

Companies have had to seek legal advice on the available courses of action in restraining such action or in obtaining such names back. This resulted in hefty legal fees and also time.

In combating such problems, Facebook gave trade mark owners the opportunity to register their rights to the username before the launch of personalised username and URLs. In doing so, Facebook had taken steps to avoid any lawsuits over trade mark.

Twitter on the other hand was not so lucky. A well-known US sports figure, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued Twitter over an account created in his name.

The false account posted updates that gave the false impression that the comments came from La Russa. The suit said the comments were “derogatory and demeaning” and damaged La Russa’s trade mark rights. The case was eventually settled.

The year 2010 will be another interesting year. Internet-enabled phones and data plans are offered at an affordable rate. Users can now access the Internet through their mobile devices whenever and wherever they are.

It will be interesting to see what are the new tools for online social networking, and the new legal challenges for the online community.

> The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, please visit www.malaysianbar.org.my/nylc.

PDF Download    Send article as PDF   

Tweet below the law

Featured in The Star Newspaper on 8 August 2010

Sunday August 8, 2010
Tweet below the law

By JOSEPH LOH
sunday@thestar.com.my

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have allowed people to easily let others know what is on their minds. But users should be careful with what they post because the laws of the land apply to cyberspace as well.

THE Internet is increasingly becoming a virtual soapbox for people to vent their thoughts – and sometimes frustrations and dissatisfaction. The proliferation of blogs, discussion groups, and more recently, social networking, have emboldened many – with the assumption that making comments from behind a screen shields them from any legal repercussion.

However, the long arm of the law extends beyond solid ground, and reaches into the virtual realm as well.

According to H.R. Dipendra, from the Malaysian Bar Council’s human rights committee, there is no distinction between comments posted on the Internet and traditional print media.

“Internet posts are subject to similar laws as that of print media, aside from the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (MCMC Act) and Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.


False sense of security: People on social networking sites and blogs tend to say more than they do in real life, thinking they can do it anonymously.

“You have to be careful what you write, and not just post what comes off the top of your head. If you know it to be inflammatory, then you should be careful,” he says.

Eddie Law, blogger and founder of elawyer.com.my and laweddie.com.my says that the www header is not an acronym for the wild wild west.

“Some think they can post or write anything, but that is not true,” he says.

Examples of legislation (see chart) include the Sedition Act, Internal Security Act, as well as civil and criminal defamation laws – all of which have previously been invoked to bring an individual to court, most famously in the cases involving blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin.


Dipendra

More recently, DAP member Teng Chang Khim was summoned to appear before the party disciplinary committee for a Twitter message that read “OMG! Real culprit freed.”

Dipendra says what has happened to Teng is fascinating, but does not believe anything will come out of it.

“His statement is not defamatory as it does not specifically refer to any particular person. It is a general opinion on a general matter,” he says.

Posting news content on Internet blogs, for example, is in some way similar to what mainstream news journalists do, but Law feels that bloggers are at a distinct disadvantage.

“They do not have proper media training or resources to help them determine what they are doing is legal.”

He opines that as social networking and blogging activity is still relatively new, there is little legal precedent to follow and there are many issues yet to be tested in court.

“The wording of the MCMC Act (Section 233 and 211) is very broad, and there is a lot of uncertainty. Because it is not yet tested, you can be snagged if its wording can be defined to suit your case,” he says.

Dipendra shares a similar opinion, and believes that when the law was drafted, it was intentionally broadly-worded.


Law

“It can be of any mode, medium or application – SMS, iPad or Twitter – so long as you type out a comment and post it, you will fall within the ambit of the two sections.

“The law is broad enough to include everyone, even an innocent disseminator,” he says.

However, he does not think it is a bad law.

“It may be uncertain and ambiguous, but not bad law. It gives enforcement agencies a lot of leeway so they would have the unfettered discretion for its use. The only question is if this discretion is used fairly,” says Dipendra.

Anonymity not guaranteed

Foong Cheng Leong, from Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill’s intellectual property department, says that people tend to say more than they do in real life, thinking they can do it anonymously.

“They think they can get away with it, but they may still get caught,” he cautions.

He gives the example of the Stemlife Bhd v Bristol-Myers Squibb (M) Sdn Bhd case. The co-defendant, Arachnid Sdn Bhd, who provided website maintenance services, was ordered to reveal the names of the persons who posted disparaging remarks against the plaintiff.

However, in a separate defamation suit involving the same parties, the judge struck out the suit against Arachnid, as it had never played an active role in respect of the content of the comments posted on the website.

There was another case where the defamatory contents of a website were deleted, but the lawyers were able to find the offending page using archived pages on waybackmachine.com.

“Simply deleting the page is not a defence, as the damage may have already been done. In a way, it is like destroying the evidence,” says Foong.

However, Law says web service providers need immunity from content posted on their website, something that United States law provides for in Section 230 of its Communi­cations Decency Act.

Foong informs that a similar “safe harbour” provision is being drawn up in Malaysia, and the same kind of immunity may later be found here.

Dipendra also says that what is posted on cyberspace stays there forever.

“Something that you said 10 years ago on a website may resurface, and you may have no recollection of even writing it.”

While existing Malaysian law appears to cover cases of wayward online behaviour at the moment, there are some who feel that there is a need for the law to be reformed.

Sonya Liew of the Bar Council explains that the world is currently undergoing both a revolution and evolution at the moment.

“Just like how there was the industrial revolution before, now we are having an information revolution,” she says.

She explains that during the agrarian age, laws were formed to protect the land, and during the industrial age, to protect intellectual property with laws regarding copyright and trademarks, for example.

“Laws regarding sedition and secrets were passed many years ago, before the information revolution. But now, society has evolved beyond this,” she says, adding that the people’s expectations regarding the right to information have evolved – together with technological advances.

“The whole world now has information at its fingertips, and if you withhold information, people start to question the lack of access to it.

“People expect information, and the question is if existing laws are sufficient to provide for the needs of a modern society,” says Liew.

She notes that signs of this can be seen in the increasing call for freedom of expression and the right to information.

“Later, we will hear of even more rights that we have not even heard of before, and it may even eat into the right to privacy,” she says, explaining that this may arise as people may want to know more about government officers’ or politicians’ lifestyle – in order to reduce graft.

“Laws exist to serve society, and society does not serve the law. We have this need now, and the question is if the Government is doing enough to provide for this need,” says Liew.

Any significant legal reform on the use of the Internet is not yet on the horizon, and until then, social networkers and bloggers should be vigilant on their online behaviour.

“People should behave the same way online as they would in real life. If they do not shout and curse in public, then their behaviour should remain the same online. They should not wear a different hat in cyberspace,” says Law.

Foong succinctly describes the appropriate online behaviour with a biblical quotation – which is still as relevant today as it was 2,000 years after it was uttered.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” quotes Foong.

Create PDF    Send article as PDF   

Minimising the risks in blogging

Published in The Star Newspaper on 8 January 2009.

BLOGGING has become the new way of life of Malaysians. It is without doubt a new form of media where a large number of the public refer to these days in addition to the mainstream media.

With this comes responsibility. It is settled that bloggers are liable for what they say and for what other people post on their blogs. The following laws are applicable to bloggers:

> Civil and criminal defamation;
> Sedition;
> Communication and Multimedia Act 1998; and,
> Copyright infringement.

The above list is not exhaustive and it is hoped that the following will serve as a short guide to minimise the risks of blogging.

One of the most common actions brought against website owners (which include a blogger) is a defamation suit. The definition of defamation is not a static concept.

It has been defined that a statement may be defamatory when it tends “to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally” or “to cut him off from society” or “to expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule”.

Defamatory statements may not only arise from written postings but also from videos (embedded in the blog), pictures/drawings/graphics, sound and even hyperlinks. Recently, a Malaysian High Court held that a website owner is liable for a hyperlink posted by a commentor that links to a website containing a defamatory statement.

The consequence of being liable for defamation is grave. It can drain you financially and make you a bankrupt. It can even put you in jail if it falls under criminal defamation. Even a food review blogger can be subject to a defamation suit. Thus to avoid such problems, the following steps are recommended:

> Avoid potentially defamatory statements;
> Moderate comments;
> Identification of commentor’s details;
> Warning to commentors;
> Disclaimer;
> Disable Cache; and,
> Anonymity.

The most obvious, and the most important, step to take from being slapped with defamation action is to avoid defamatory statements.
Always ensure that what you write is true. If you are unable to verify the truth of a statement on your blog, junk it. Avoid criticising other people on your blog, as sometimes the criticism can be taken as defamatory.

Another type of entry you should avoid is rumour-based entries. It is advisable not to repeat a rumour made by others, unless you can prove it.

As mentioned earlier, what got many website owners into trouble is what their readers posted. And website owners are liable for comments made by other parties published on their website.
In this regard, website owners can be subject to an application to the court compelling them to reveal the identity of the commentor. It should not be much of a problem to website owners to reveal the identity, but sometimes the order goes a bit further than that.
For example, there were cases where website owners were compelled to reveal Malaysian identity card numbers of their commentors, and also slapped with costs payable to the complainant.

Thus, it is useful to set up a system to filter comments and require commentors to register themselves before they can submit comments. Alternatively, the website owner may have in place a stringent approval system where comments will only be posted upon approval.
Further, you may also reveal the details of the commentors such as their Internet Protocol (IP) address, time of posting and e-mail address on the website upon the posting of the comment.
By revealing such details, the commentors can be traced through their Internet service provider, etc. This may restrain commentors from posting malicious comments.

It would also be useful to place a warning stating that commentors are liable for what they say or that you will reveal their details to the authorities upon request. The warning can be fortified with a disclaimer, which could be useful to discourage defamatory statements.

The disclaimer can go along these lines: “The comments contained on this blog reflect the views of the author and do not in any way represent that of the owner of this blog.” This serves as notice that the views of the commentors are not shared by the blogger.
Many consider websites such as WayBack Machine and Google Cache as God‘s gifts to computer geeks. These websites keep a record of your website and are quite useful when you lose the contents of your website. You can retrieve some of your lost documents from there.

But this also means that anyone can retrieve anything deleted from your website, including defamatory statements that had been removed. But not to fear, for there is also a special option where you can stop these websites from keeping a record of your website.
If all the above fail to avoid a letter of demand or you just wish to have a carefree blog, then try blogging anonymously. This would include setting up a blog using a pseudonym with no trace of the person’s identity on the blog. Some do it for their own protection, and some do it so that they cannot be found.

Although distasteful, this allows bloggers to avoid being discovered and to post entries without any restriction. But if caught, they will suffer grave repercussion. In a recent Canadian court decision, anonymous electronic postings of defamatory material were not only actionable but would also warrant a high damages award.
With the upcoming High Speed Broadband (HSBB) rollout, we can expect more content-rich blogs. With this, the dissemination of information may expand to methods which are unknown to us now. There will therefore be new laws and challenges ahead.

Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, please visit www.malaysianbar.org.my/nylc.

PDF Creator    Send article as PDF   
 Scroll to top