Net Loss Down Under

It doesn't matter if you produce a humble home webpage or an electronic world-class news report. If you publish on the Internet in America, you could get sued from as far away as Australia, under its laws.

That's the upshot of a disturbing landmark ruling from the Australian high court, which threatens Internet free speech in monumental ways.

The case centers on a mining magnate from down under, Joe Gutnick, who sued Barron's magazine for an allegedly libelous article that he downloaded in Australia.

But Mr. Gutnick did not cross the ocean for his day in a court in the US, where Barron's produces its Internet product, and where libel cases are particularly tough to win.

Instead, he argued that Australia is the proper jurisdiction, because that is where the article was downloaded, i.e. "published." The court agreed.

Admittedly, laws have a difficult time keeping pace with the nanosecond development of the global Internet. And what's produced electronically in one country can offend, and even be illegal, in another.

But imagine American publishers, large and small, having to vet content for the world's 190 different libel laws, and potential plaintiffs being able to shop among countries for the easiest place to sue. That's why 18 of the world's major media companies filed submissions to dismiss Gutnick, and why the rest must now be legitimately concerned.

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