In a landmark ruling yesterday in Australia, judges decided the creators of any website displaying defamatory material could be sued in any country where that information could be viewed. If the decision is followed here in the UK it could open the door on a flood of lawsuits.
The ruling concerned financial publisher Dow Jones which had posted libellous information on its website in America but was being sued in Victoria, Australia.
Under the current law, websites are liable to court action in their country of origin. Just last week gossip website Popbitch.com was ordered to take down untrue and libellous gossip about David Beckham. It did so as soon as it was alerted to the content and no charges have yet been brought.
But yesterday's ruling found the internet should be treated no differently to international news, TV or radio services, all of which can be sued wherever they are read or seen.
"I completely agree with yesterday's decision," said Michael Clinch, senior partner at Law firm Picton Howell. "The problem is that people are focusing on protecting the company that has [committed the act] rather then the injured party who the law is there to protect."
Clinch believes that even if websites take down information once they have been notified of it they should still be liable to legal action.
"Once the victim's reputation has been jeopardised it's too late. If the website posted it then they should take responsibility for it," he added.
If the decision, currently on law in Australia, is followed throughout the Commonwealth then it could see websites facing huge legal costs to fight international battles.