Until very recently, news media and other forum hosts have been
coping with a significant yet ill-defined area of Canadian law
concerning their liability for third party user-generated content
posted by their readers.
Weaver v. Corcoran, 2015 BCSC 165 is the first Canadian case to
explicitly address whether the operator of an internet forum is
liable for reader comments that may be defamatory of specific
individuals. The answer is no, unless the operator or forum
host is aware of the comments and does not act immediately to
In the case, Dr. Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist and
professor at the University of Victoria (and currently, B.C. MLA
and deputy leader of the Green Party) sued the National Post for
its own columns as well as responsive reader comments published on
the National Post’s internet forum which “attacked the
plaintiff’s character in a vitriolic manner”.
The practice of the National Post was not to actively
and other such content, and it responded once a problematic post
was brought to its attention.
The Court accepted as a fact that (1) the National Post had a
passive instrumental role in the dissemination of the reader
comments, but took no action amounting to approval, adoption,
promotion or ratification of the content; and (2) once employees of
the newspaper became aware of the defamatory nature of the specific
comments, the comments were then removed from the website within
1-2 days. In these circumstances, the Court found there was no need
to consider defences to defamation such as innocent dissemination
since there was no “publication” by the National
The case will be welcomed by forum hosts whose choices until now
were to pre-vet every post or hopefully be able to rely on one of
the defences to defamation such as truth, fair comment or the
poorly defined (at least in Canada) defence of innocent
complete hands-off approach paired with a prompt response to
complaints, relieve the forum host from a finding that it is a
publisher for defamation purposes.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see what time frame is
determined sufficient for an “immediate” response in
other cases and whether the volume of comments on the National Post
site versus another site will be a factor for consideration.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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In less than nine months, on July 1, 2017, persons affected by a contravention of Canada's anti-spam legislation will be able to invoke a private right of action to sue for compensation and potentially substantial statutory damages.
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