- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) Australia's highest court of appeal yesterday gave a businessman the right to sue for defamation in the country about an article published in the United States and posted on the Internet.
Analysts suggest that the ruling against publisher Dow Jones & Co. the first by a nation's top court to deal with cross-border Internet defamation could set a precedent and affect publishers and Web sites that post articles in the 190 nations that allow defamation cases.
"This is the first time that a supreme court anywhere in the world [rules] not just in libel but really tries to look at how jurisdictional law maps onto the Internet," said Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor who tracks Internet cases around the world.
The High Court of Australia unanimously dismissed an appeal by Dow Jones aimed at stopping the defamation suit in the country by mining magnate Joseph Gutnick.
Mr. Gutnick said that a 7,000-word article that appeared in Barron's magazine in October 2000 portrayed him as a schemer given to stock scams, money laundering and fraud. The article was also posted online.
The decision means that Mr. Gutnick can sue the New York-based company in his home state of Victoria, in Australia.
Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Dow Jones Newswires and several stock market indicators, promised to continue its defense.
"The result means that Dow Jones will defend those proceedings in a jurisdiction which is far removed from the country in which the article was prepared and where the vast bulk of Barron's readership resides," it said in a statement.
Several media and Internet organizations, including the Associated Press, Amazon.com and AOL Time Warner, filed legal briefs in support of Dow Jones.
"It's a judgment that will be looked at very closely by people in this area, including the media right around the world," said Matthew Collins, a lawyer and academic from Melbourne, Australia.
"What it means is that foreign publishers writing material about persons in Australia had better have regards to the standards of Australian law before they upload material to the Internet," he said.
Attorneys for Dow Jones argued that the case should be heard in the United States because the article was first published in New Jersey and intended for a U.S. audience.
Mr. Gutnick said that the case should be heard in his hometown, Melbourne, because people in Victoria could see the article online, and he was thus defamed where he is best known.
"It will certainly be re-established that the Net is no different than the regular newspaper," he told Australia's Channel Nine television. "You have to be careful what you write, and if you offend somebody or write malicious statements about people like what was done in my case, you can be subject to being prosecuted."
The judgment means that material published on the Internet is deemed to have been published in the place it is viewed online, not just in the country of origin.
"I think it will be accorded great respect by courts around the world, particularly those which have an English common law heritage, like Britain, Canada, New Zealand," Mr. Collins said. "I would also expect it to be studied very closely in the United States, where courts are also grappling with the same question, and it may be that this judgment offers them some guidance, as well."
However, the seven-judge court imposed some limits on defamation actions.
In its ruling, the court dismissed Dow Jones' concerns that many defamation actions could be brought as a result of one publication. It said that after any successful defamation action, subsequent legal action could be viewed as "vexatious" and, therefore, unlikely to succeed.
The court dismissed the publisher's contention that it would have to consider the defamation laws from "Afghanistan to Zimbabwe" in every article it posts online.
"In all except the most unusual of cases, identifying the person about whom material is to be published will readily identify the defamation law to which that person may resort," the court said.
The ruling made no decision on the defamation case itself. Mr. Gutnick will have to pursue his case in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

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