Which Legal Standards Should Apply To Web-logs?
The present legal position of Internet journals in the European iuris prudence in the light of the European Parliament Committee’s on Culture and Education report and Polish Supreme Court decision
The article discusses the present status of weblogs and examines whether legal standards applicable to traditional press and media should be applied to that specific forum. The analysis is based on two key documents: the Draft Report on the concentration and pluralism in the media in European Union (2007/2253(INI)) of the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education presented in March 2008 and a landmark decision of the Polish Supreme Court from July 26, 2007 (IV KK 174/07) in the light of present judicial tendency in other European countries.
The first of the mentioned documents calls for the “clarification of the legal status of different categories of weblog authors and publishers as well as disclosure of interests and voluntary labelling of weblogs”. It emphasizes that the “undetermined and unindicated status of authors and publishers of weblogs causes uncertainties regarding impartiality, reliability, source protection, applicability of ethical codes and the assignment of liability in the event of lawsuits”. The position of the European Parliament, expressed in the document, raises serious questions on the limits of freedom of thought and speech on the Internet and on the degree of acceptable state control.
A recent Polish Supreme Court decision, which caused quite a stir in the Polish Internet community, seems to head in the very direction recommended by the EP Culture Committee. In a case of two editors of a web journal (“czasopismo internetowe”) called “Szyciepoprzemysku”, available on-line, accused of publishing a journal without the proper registration, the Polish Supreme Court stated that “journals and periodicals do not lose the character of a press release due solely to the fact that they appear in the form of an Internet transmission”, and that ‘’the publishing of press in an electronic form, available on the Internet, requires registration”.
The decision was most surprising, as prior lower courts decisions declined the possibility to register Internet periodicals.
The accused were acquitted in the name of the constitutional principle of the rule of law (art. 7 of the Polish Constitution) and the ensuing obligation to protect the trust of a citizen to the state (a conviction in this case would break the collateral estoppel rule), however the decision quickly awoke media frenzy and raised the fear of a need to register all websites that were regularly updated. The spokesman of the Polish Supreme Court later explained that the sentence of the Court was not intended to cause a mass registration of all Internet “periodicals” and that neither weblogs nor Internet sites, that were regularly updated, needed registration. Such an interpretation of the Polish press law did not appear clear based only on the original text of the judgment and the decision as such still raises serious practical questions.
The article aims to examine the status of Internet logs as press and seeks the compromise between the concerns expressed by European authorities and the freedom of thought and speech exercised on the Internet.