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“Portals Must Take Legal Responsibility for Libel”

Posted May. 19, 2007 04:06,   


The Seoul Central District Court ruled on May 18 that a portal site should compensate others for damages if it does not take any action to tackle online replies written by Internet users for the purpose of discrediting someone.

This ruling will hold portal sites accountable for ignoring legal responsibilities for libel while virtually acting as the press by supplying news provided by the media. Therefore, the decision is expected to affect operators of Internet portals.

The presiding judge ruled against four portal sites in motion for compensation for damages amounting to 500 million won. The judge ruled that “Portals should give 16 million won to Mr. Kim,” who sued the sites insisting that, “I was damaged because they left online replies containing my personal information and articles defaming me on their websites.”

The mother of Mr. Kim’s girlfriend, who committed suicide in April, 2005, wrote on the Internet indicating that her daughter ended her life because of him, and some of the media reported that using fake names. Then portal sites posted this article on their sites and many left replies criticizing him. In the process, his real name and school were exposed by the replies, and he sued those portals.

The court clarified portal sites’ obligations for managing replies with the ruling. At trial, the Internet providers insisted that, “We cannot take responsibility for libel because we do not have any right to delete or edit articles. We just arrange these articles based on their importance after being given them by the media.” However, the court did not accept that.

Judges said that, “Portals usually change news titles and make space for replies to attract readers and to form public opinion. In this case, specific information about Mr. Kim was revealed through replies, and the portals cannot escape their legal responsibility for his defamation as a result.”

Moreover, the bench added that, “Portals have the obligation to delete replies if they know such replies can cause problems by regularly monitoring them, even if they cannot monitor them 24 hours a day and remove them. At that time, the portals had to identify those problematic replies because articles about Mr. Kim were receiving so many hits.”

Judges also mentioned social responsibility of portal sites, whose influence is getting bigger in this society. They emphasized that, “As the Internet has become a powerful medium to influence public opinion, portals should do their part to prevent harmful information from circulating on the web so that a sound online culture can arise. Portals which make money by providing Internet services have commensurate obligations.”

The court found that NHN should compensate 5 million won, Daum Communications and Yahoo Korea should compensate 4 million won each, SK Communications should compensate 3 million won, considering the number of replies causing problems, the size of each portal site, and their efforts to eliminate those replies.