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The Short Arm Of The Law 20 January 2003 Edition
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Just a few short weeks ago, an Australian court ruled that its laws could be applied to overseas websites for the purposes of defamation actions.

This created a bit of an uproar and resulted in quite a bit of controversy within the Net industry. "What right does the courts of one country have to try and impose its laws on the citizens of another?" was the question raised some.

You'll probably also recall that a few years ago, an American millionaire was hauled before the local courts on charges relating to the possession of cannabis. Name suppression was ordered by the court -- but a newspaper in the offender's home-town went ahead and published details of the case, including the guy's name.

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After I linked to that story there was much discussion over the inadequacies of things like name suppression in the cyber-age.

Well this weekend a very interesting situation arose in the UK which is worth examining.

Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has gone to court in an attempt to stop the UK's The Mail on Sunday newspaper from publishing allegations about his private life.

It seems that old Gerhard would rather that some of the potentially embarrassing details of an alleged affair with a TV reporter not be plastered all over the paper's pages.

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  • Herr Schroeder... - Rob
  • Spain uncovers hi-tech... - Conrad
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    Schroeder was successful in convincing a Hamburg court to issue an injunction that forbids the paper's publishers, Associated Newspapers, from printing their allegations. If the paper ignores the injunction then it could be slapped with a $500,000 fine -- or at least that's the theory.

    The paper's editor has dismissed the injunction as being invalid and he told the media that "we do not accept that Chancellor Schroeder can use a German court to tell us what we can and cannot report"

    Some lawyers disagree however, and have suggested that German law could, in some cases, apply to UK companies and citizens because they are all part of the European Union.

    But what has all this got to do with the Internet I hear you ask?

    Well, although The Mail on Sunday seems happy to ignore the injunction and print its allegations on paper -- I've been unable to find any indication that they're also publishing them on the Net.

    Could it be that the ruling of an Australian court has set such a precedent that they're not prepared to risk it?

    Just a few weeks ago I also noticed this story in which a Candadian court ordered some details relating to a case suppressed and it specifically included mention of the internet. I wonder how they'd go about enforcing that if an NZ newspaper published the suppressed information?

    How long before we see a cyber-treaty which will give the courts of one country to impose a binding ruling on Internet publishers from another?

    Or, in the wake of the Australian court's ground-breaking decision, has the need for such a treaty been eliminated?

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