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February 15 2011

16:14

Tell the government what you want from the Public Data Corporation

Public Data Corporation consultation

If who are excited about the prospect of open data, but frustrated by its execution (or just one of those people who complain that data doesn’t change anything), the government are inviting comments on what shape the Public Data Corporation should take.

It’s a refreshingly simple execution: a WordPress blog with each question as a separate blog post – presumably it cost a lot less than £300,000. But of course the questions are theirs, and they are:

1.      Which public sector datasets do you currently make use of?

2.      How easy is it to find out what datasets are held by public sector organisations?

3.      How do you, or would you, decide whether a dataset has value for you or for your organisation? What affects how valuable they are, for example timeliness, granularity, format?

4.      Which datasets are of most value to you or your organisation? Why?

5.      What methods of access to datasets would most benefit you or your organisation?

6.      What gets in the way of you or your organisation accessing datasets or data products?

7.      What are the most exciting applications of datasets or data products you are aware of – here or internationally? We are, again, particularly interested in the following areas: registration activities, environmental science, critical infrastructure and the built environment.

8.      Are there any datasets or products you’d like to see generated? How would you or your organisation use them, and what social or economic benefits do you think they would deliver?

9.      From your perspective, what would success look like for the Public Data Corporation?

10.  Have we got the name for this organisation right?  Do you have any suggestions on naming that might better convey our aims?

It’s a shame that there isn’t any space for more open discussion – and that so many of the questions resemble market research. But still, the more journalists who pile in – the more justifiably we can moan later. So go ahead.

Post your responses here.

December 16 2009

07:24

Defamation and the internet: a consultation response to the Ministry of Justice

Last month I blogged about the consultation currently taking place on the law of defamation and the multiple publication rule. The deadline for that is today. Below I’ve published my own responses. If you feel I’ve got something wrong or missed something, please let me know.

Question 1. Taking into account the arguments set out [in the document], do you consider in principle that the multiple publication rule should be retained? If not, should a single publication rule be introduced? Please give reasons for your answers.

Comments: Based on the arguments set out, I do not believe that the multiple publication rule should be retained. The primary reason for this is that the burden of proof in these cases rests on the publishers, in situations where any records may well have disappeared. This is particularly problematic when employment within publishing is increasingly unpredictable, and employees – along with their records – are either frequently leaving or being made redundant from positions, or working for the organisation on a freelance basis. A single publication rule should be introduced.

In addition, the multiple publication rule is based on a print-based industry where defamatory material might be hard to access. In an industry that commonly publishes content online, with its concomitant findability, ease of distribution, and monitoring, it would be particularly unusual for a person not to become aware of defamatory content within a year of its publication.

Question 2. If the multiple publication rule were to be retained should there be an obligation to place a notice on an archive once the person responsible has been notified that the material is subject to defamation proceedings?

Comments: Yes. This would not only guard against other actions but also alert potential witnesses who may read the article or, in future, receive updates on it.

Question 3. Do you agree that if a single publication rule were to be introduced, it should apply to all defamation proceedings, not just those relating to online publications?

Comments: Yes. Otherwise someone could simply use online archives to find the material but visit the physical archives to support their case.

Question 4. If a single publication rule were introduced,

a) should it be made obligatory to remove or amend material held in other formats under the control of the same publisher in the event of a successful defamation action against the original publication of the material?

Yes. Clearly if material is found to be defamatory then the publisher should alter any defamatory material under their control.

b) should there be a provision that, where defamatory material is re-transmitted in a new format, the single publication rule would only protect the previous publisher and not the publisher of the new article?

No. The idea of an article, for example, linking to defamatory material being defamatory itself would seriously threaten the culture of transparency in web publication where authors are expected to link to their sources.

Question 5. 
b) Should online content that has been modified be regarded as a new publication?

No. This would discourage useful modifications and corrections as staff would then have to check the entire text every time a small element of it was brought to their attention. If every modification was considered a new publication, publishers would simply leave erroneous or outdated material unchanged.

Question 6. As an alternative to introducing a single publication rule, do you consider that the Defamation Act 1996 should be amended to extend the defence of qualified privilege to publications on online archives outside the one year limitation period for the initial publication, unless the publisher refuses or neglects to update the electronic version, on request, with a reasonable letter or statement by the claimant by way of explanation or contradiction? Please give reasons for your answer.

Comments: I am inclined to say ‘Yes’ here because it restricts the opportunity for profit-motivated legal action against published. However, such a move also runs the risk of inclining publishers to complying with such requests to avoid losing their qualified privilege. Both elements need to be factored in.

Question 7. Do you agree that if the multiple publication rule is retained, the limitation period should remain at one year from the date of publication (with discretion to extend)? If not, what limitation period would be appropriate and why?

Comments: Yes. As the current one year period is not causing problems, there appears little reason to extend to ten years.

Question 8. 
a) If a single publication rule were introduced, should the limitation period of one year run from the date of publication (with discretion to extend) or the date of knowledge (without discretion to extend)? If the latter, should there also be a ten year long-stop from the date of publication?

From publication. The introduction of date of knowledge is problematic to prove and makes preparation of a defence equally complicated. Given the accessibility of contemporaneous content, those with reputations are likely to monitor online media for mentions and become aware of defamatory content quickly. The increased ability of people to search, distribute and access content online makes it difficult to support any limitation period based on date of knowledge.

November 09 2009

20:51

Do something now: help change the daft defamation law on online publishing

Forget about turning your Twitter avatar green or adding a Twibbon, here’s something you can do today which can make a genuine difference to both professional journalists and bloggers: write to the Ministry of Justice as part of their consultation on defamation which has just a few weeks left:

“This consultation seeks views on the ‘multiple publication rule’ under which [people can be sued for every time a web article has been  accessed], and its effects in relation to online archives. The paper considers the arguments for and against the rule and the alternatives of a single publication rule.”

This consultation couldn’t have been published in a more user-unfriendly way. The consultation page consists mainly of a link to a PDF and a Word document (which was clearly written for an online form that was never created, even down to HTML coding).

There is no clear address to send your responses to. You’ll find it on the 4th line of the Word document. It’s defamationandtheinternet@justice.gsi.gov.uk. Don’t worry, I’ll repeat that again at the end of the post.

Here’s what they’re asking (also hereherehereherehere and here), reproduced in a rather easier-to-navigate format and rephrased for slightly easier reading:

  • Question 1. Taking into account the arguments set out in the PDF, should the multiple publication rule be retained? If not, should a single publication rule be introduced? Please give reasons for your answers.
  • Question 2. If the multiple publication rule were to be retained should publishers have to place a notice on an archive once the person responsible has been notified that the material is subject to defamation proceedings?
  • Question 3. If a single publication rule were to be introduced, should it apply to all defamation proceedings, not just those relating to online publications?
  • Question 4. If a single publication rule were introduced,
    1. If the publisher is successfully sued against the original publication of the material, should publishers have to remove or amend material held in other formats under their control?
    2. should there be a provision that, where defamatory material is re-transmitted in a new format, the single publication rule would only protect the previous publisher and not the publisher of the new article?
    3. if neither of these are considered appropriate, how could claimants’ interests be protected?
    4. should the existing ‘voluntary’ obligations to correct inaccurate and misleading material be strengthened? If so, how should this be done?
      Please give reasons for your answers.
  • Question 5.
    • a) If a single publication rule were introduced, do you consider that the approach taken in the United States in respect of what constitutes a new publication of hard copy material would be workable? If not, what changes should be made?
    • b) Should online content that has been modified be regarded as a new publication?
    • c) Are there any other issues that would need to be resolved in establishing a single publication rule? Please give reasons for your answers.
  • Question 6. As an alternative to introducing a single publication rule, should the Defamation Act 1996 be amended to extend the defence of qualified privilege to publications on online archives outside the one year limitation period for the initial publication, unless the publisher refuses or neglects to update the electronic version, on request, with a reasonable letter or statement by the claimant by way of explanation or contradiction? Please give reasons for your answer.
  • Question 7. If the multiple publication rule is retained, should the limitation period remain at one year from the date of publication (with discretion to extend)? If not, what limitation period would be appropriate and why?
  • Question 8.
    • a) If a single publication rule were introduced, should the limitation period of one year run from the date of publication (with discretion to extend) or the date of knowledge (without discretion to extend)? If the latter, should there also be a ten year long-stop from the date of publication?
    • b) If you consider that an alternative approach would be appropriate, what should this be and why?

In case you need further nudging, I’ve started a pledge at PledgeBank – if 10 people sign up to that pledge to write to the MOJ, then I will write too. But not until then. If you need any help let me know.

Once again, the email to send your responses to is defamationandtheinternet@justice.gsi.gov.uk. Please don’t be put off by the exam-style phrasing and intimidating raft of questions. Just answer the questions you feel able to respond to. If you’ve ever complained about the law not catching up to the internet age, this is your chance to do something about it. So do it.

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