Court says Web portals are responsible for comments

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Court says Web portals are responsible for comments

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Internet portals are liable for failing to delete defamatory and malicious comments posted on their news service Web sites.

The ruling, the first of its kind by the court, will affect how portals moderate users’ comments in the future.

The country’s highest court upheld a lower court ruling that the operators of four major portal sites - Daum Communications, SK Communications (Nate), NHN (Naver), and Yahoo Korea - must pay a combined compensation of 30 million won ($22,522) in damages to a man named Kim who was defamed on their Web sites.

“The portals should have been aware that malicious comments against Kim were in wide circulation,” the court said in ruling. “It is the portals’ obligations to delete such comments even if Kim had not requested that they do so.”

Kim filed the defamation suit against the portals saying he suffered grave mental anguish caused by negative comments. He argued that the portals were negligent in not controlling malicious and defamatory comments against him on their Web sites. The portals in 2005 carried news stories about Kim’s ex-girlfriend, who committed suicide after breaking up with him.

The infuriated mother of the deceased posted messages on her daughter’s Cyworld homepage, a local social networking Web site, that Kim was to blame for her daughter’s death.

The story was quickly disseminated throughout the Internet. Some media reported about the incident and Kim has become a target of criticism by Internet users. Some comments posted revealed Kim’s identity, including his full name and phone number.

After a lower court ruled that the portals must pay 16 million won in compensation, they appealed to a higher court, arguing that they cannot be held responsible.

The higher court, however, raised the compensation amount to 30 million won, saying that the portals bear responsibility for “changing headlines of the articles and placing them on their Web sites where users can easily find them.”

Park Yong-sang, who testified for the plaintiff at the court, said in cases where portals simply display news articles provided by media without changing anything, that could be perceived as distribution of the articles.

“This means portals will bear more responsibility if they change headlines and place the articles so that they are more in the spotlight,” said Park, who is an attorney who specializes in media law. “This ruling will put more responsibility on portals in terms of their ways of putting out articles from the media.”


By Park Sung-woo, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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