Friday, 27 June 2014

Are Social Media Companies Left Open to Litigation By a Lack of Legal Safeguards?

Guest Post

social media litigationAlthough social media is less than ten years old, its influence on not just the online world, but all forms of communication, has been immense. The influence of social media has spread beyond the online world to affect a great amount of culture.

Perhaps the scale and importance of social media is best represented in numbers. A total of 1.2 billion people have Facebook accounts, with hundreds of millions logging in to the website each day to check messages, view photos and interact with friends.

Other, ‘smaller’ social networks like Twitter have attracted more than 230 million active users. The userbase of Twitter sends out over 500 million collective tweets every single day – certainly not a small amount by anyone’s count.

The risk of defamation in social media

With the massive size of the social media world comes a considerable risk. Since the technology used in social media is almost completely instant, users can publish any message at any time, directed at almost any user.

In addition to this, permanent deletion is far from straightforward. Although users can easily delete individual tweets and status updates from their accounts, many of their messages remain on the servers of social media companies permanently.

One of the key legal issues of defamation in social media is determining whether the social media companies are responsible for the content their users produce. Does a Twitter user represent Twitter, or are they simply using the website to publish their own thoughts and opinions?

The legal question is complicated by the importance of freedom of expression, one of the most fundamental human rights. The second issue is the international nature of social media, where the user bases of social media services are international and law is not.

In countries governed both by local laws and EU laws, for example, there is already a tension between the two sets of laws. As of now, litigation is only possible when the message and dispute originate in the country in which libel litigation is pursued.

While their audiences are truly international, most social networks are based in the United States. Interestingly, there is little case law in the United States regarding the issue of social media libel – in fact, limited social media case law exists worldwide.

In January 2014, the first libel case related to postings on Twitter reached court. The case concerned a well-known celebrity – Courtney Love – who defended her tweet by claiming it was opinion, rather than defamation.

A 2013 defamation case regarding information published using Twitter – McAlpine v Bercow 2013 – resulted in a guilty verdict, although Twitter avoided being a party to the litigation itself.

Google, another provider of social media services, have been named as a defendant in a defamation case. The California-based company was part of the Tamiz v Google Inc 2013 case in England and Wales. Its defence was upheld – that it “did not know and had no reason to believe” it had contributed to the publication of the material.

There have been numerous smaller cases involving defamatory or libellous content posted on social media. Most have been averted by social media providers through the removal of offending content within a short amount of time.

The responsibility of individuals
In short, the short history of libel and defamation cases involving social networks and social media companies indicate that individuals are responsible for what they post online; not the companies that host their published opinions.

As social media companies act only as platforms for users to use to publish their thoughts and opinions, they appear to be adequately safeguarded from liability.

This article was provided on behalf of Vannin Capital, one of the UK’s leading specialist litigation funding providers.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

A couple of thoughts on England

That is – the England football team.

England - success at failureThe England squad: excelling at failure since oooh – at least the 1990s

Quite unsurprisingly, over the last few days, there’s been a ridonkulous amount of supposed analysis over England’s rather dismal performance in the 2014 World Cup.  Almost exclusively, that analysis has taken the form of trite observations from lazy columnists and rent-a-quote ‘has been’ pundits.

I’ve had a couple of thoughts that I’ve not seen anywhere else as to why the England squad seem to fall consistently flat.

Could it be down to the rather uninspiring nature of the country’s national anthem, failing to get them pumped-up before a game?

Or is it that, as a nation, we’re just not very good at football?

Have I hit the nail on the head?

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Why Touchscreen Tech isn’t all that

New tech really doesn’t grab me

Touchscreen Tech
I’ve been musing over the world’s obsession with small-form-factor technology recently - particularly touchscreen devices - and struggling to understand why I haven’t been swept along with it. The simple fact is, while owning smartphones and tablets, I don’t particularly like using them and feel that the scope of their usefulness is an awful lot less than most other people seem to think. I’m really curious why that is.

I have two smartphones kicking around (one personal – one work) and I try to avoid using either wherever possible. Quite often, a week will go by where I’ve not touched them. One of them stays on my desk at home (go figure) and the other remains secreted in my bag. I might check it during the week or I might not. I figure people can either email me or call the office. Quite often they do both. Bastards.

I feel slightly warmer over tablets. But only slightly. I have a first-gen Nexus 7 and a Surface 2 with a typecover. As I have to grapple with a significant commute to work four times a week, I’ve found tablets to be an excellent way to take entertainment with me while not significantly weighing me down.

But my use of tablets stops there. I barely ever touched (ahem) my Nexus 7 when I wasn’t commuting and, despite going overboard trying to embrace my Surface 2 in the early months of this year, I finally admitted defeat a while ago and acknowledged that if the option is available, I’d much rather use a regular PC every time.

I’ve found that the Surface 2, with a typecover, gives you the option to type on something which vaguely resembles a physical keyboard (as opposed to the on-board touchy-feely keyboards which, for me, are about as painful in use as a tin-tack in a jockstrap). But the typecover is a bit cramped, a bit prone to bending and the semi-furry surface of the touchpad section really doesn’t make for a dazzling experience. I’ve tried marking up draft contracts with it and doing other work ‘stuff’ which has proven fine in a cramped-this-isn’t-ideal-but-I’m-coping kind of way. But technology is meant to make things easier, not harder, so why struggle?

The full extent of my frustration with touchscreens hit me the other day while on a short train journey. I received a personal email on my phone (one of the few occasions I had it with me) and wanted to acknowledge it quickly with a few words in response. I started writing, only to be struck by just how Goddamn painful it was. I quickly gave up, figuring I would far rather wait and type it on a proper keyboard once I got home.

I think that tells you everything you need to know.

Lately I’ve been increasingly pondering as to why I find touch technology so disappointing. I haven’t come up with an answer. What I do know is that I find the novelty of touchscreen devices wears off awfully quickly. To me, they’re gimmicky and far nicer as a concept than in real-world use. I’m always amused by the dogged business commuters you find on trains who are hell-bent on proving they can ‘get work done’ on an iPad. I’m sure that, deep down, they all know they’re kidding themselves. And, please, ladies – the incessant tap of long nails typing on a touchscreen display is hugely annoying. You’d be far better getting your laptop out. Your manicurist might thank you for it too.

And just to be clear, I’m not on some kind of anti-technology vendetta here in which I pan everything with a microchip or circuit board. I use regular PCs more than ever – and I’ve virtually finished my personal SSD upgrade ‘programme’ in which I whack an SSD in any device I own that’ll take one. As I’ve often said, the biggest problem with SDDs is they make going back to a regular hard disk so damn painful.

On refection, I suppose my issue with touchscreen tech is a simple one – their limitations. The world seems to be on an endless hunt to find the everything-in-one device. I don’t think it exists (or ever will – at least in the near future). Let’s stop pretending these touchscreen mobile devices are something they aren’t. They’re well suited to consuming content – reading, watching movies and all the rest. But as soon as the need arises for even a little bit of typing (OK, I’ll say it – content creation), I think they’re utterly hopeless.

Is it me? Is anybody else struck by the severe limitations of touchscreen tech? Or am I needlessly stuck in the 1990s with my mouse and keyboard?

I ask because everyone else it seems – lawyers included – seem to be as happy as pigs in the smelly stuff to be tapping away on touchscreens. In a business context, I really don’t get that - touch technology on regular desktops and laptops strikes me as frankly ridiculous. It’s more than just gimmicky – it gets in the way of getting work done. Please tell me that touchscreen monitors won’t be making a mainstream appearance in legal practice anytime soon. Please tell me that! The day we start to create documents by reaching out with our grubby mitts and fumbling all over a touch-sensitive desktop display, is the day I’ll retire.

And I’ve got to do a bit more topping up of my pension before we’re at that point, thank you.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Overriding Objections

overriding objectiveFrom PI Brief Update email sent 12/06/14:

Last month's practitioner's section reported the case of Kaneria v Kaneria [2014] EWHC 1165 (Ch), in which it was held that Mitchell principles do not apply to in time applications for an extension of time. It was held that these applications should be decided by reference to the overriding objection [sic].

Hehe. That’s super. In my experience, litigation gives rise to a lot of ‘overriding objections’.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Your rights if you’re injured in a public place

Guest Postpublic liabilityThe owner, manager or proprietor of a public place is legally obliged to ensure that the place, when it is accessible by the public, is safe and free from risk. This duty of care requires there to be a certain level of cleanliness, tidiness and warning of potential hazards.

What is defined as a public place?
Supermarkets, parks, pubs, schools, etc. all are designated public places. Essentially, any person that allows members of the public onto their premises has a duty of care to take reasonable responsibility for their safety whilst on their premises.

Even public footpaths and roads are considered public places, as they are owned, managed and maintained by the council. Hence, if an accident is the fault of a poorly maintained footpath, it is the council’s responsibility, or lack of duty of care.

All owners or management of public places are expected to have public liability insurance. If compensation is sought, much like a car insurance policy, funds are paid from the insurer to the victim.

The thin line between liability
It is often difficult to know whether you’re in a public place. Is that footpath council owned, or is it a private property? Is the car park part of the supermarket or are they only liable when shopping inside the store, and what about the entrances and doorways? Plenty of accidents take place on escalators, at doors, emergency exits or on stairwells, so is the manager liable?

In the legal sense of the term, a public place is anywhere which is privately or publically owned, and, either by direct, expressed or implied invitation is accessible by the public. On the other hand, places which are used exclusively by individuals or groups for personal purposes are not defined as public places.

The importance of signs
Hazards in public places are unavoidable; people will always spill things, move items and generally cause dangerous situations for other visitors. However, it is how the management deals with such a situation which can cause more of an issue. We’ve all noticed ‘caution wet floor’ signs and similar warnings when out and about, but these are vital to ensure the management is safe from liability should an accident happen. Any spillage should be cleaned and warned of, similar with debris being removed promptly and all hazards being addressed. That way, the general public is aware of, and will avoid, possible accidents.

Many accident claims are down to the fact that the management of a public space has not taken sufficient steps to warn the public of a hazard.

Your right to make a claim
If you were harmed in a public place, in an accident which was no fault of your own, you’re entitled to make a claim for compensation. An owner’s public liability insurance is in place to deal with such claims. A good solicitor will help you to decide whether it was a public place and whether you’re eligible to claim, so after an injury it helps to detail as much information as possible.

A court case, and any financial settlement received by the victim, will help to address the serious issues poor health and safety in a public place can cause. Often, slips, trips and falls cause terrible injuries and further implications for an individual, for example, being unable to work for a long time, extensive rehabilitation or having to rely on family and carers to support the home and family. Compensation will help considerably to cover these costs, leaving a victim free to recover at their own pace.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Car tax – is it an offence to fail to display a valid tax disc?

(As distinct from paying the relevant rate of tax for the vehicle in question.)

***UPDATE***  The law concerning the display of tax discs in vehicles in England and Wales changed on 1 October 2014.  The summary of the legal position in the post below is as the law was in June 2014.

Car TaxJudging from my site stats, there seem to be a lot of drivers out there who are curious on this subject. So I thought a specific post might be in order. I’m helpful like that. :p

It’s generally well known that motorists who use a car (or leave it parked) on a public road must have paid the car tax that applies to their car and display the tax disc on the windscreen. Failing to do so is a criminal offence. I say this because there are numerous comments left on motoring and self-righteous (ahem) self-help forums on the web, confidently asserting that drivers will ‘get done’ for not displaying a valid tax disc for their vehicle when on public roads.

Lovely. But where is this set out?

The relevant law relating to car tax (or vehicle excise duty as it’s formally known) is principally set out under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 (“VERA”).

Section 29 of VERA provides:

29 Penalty for using or keeping unlicensed vehicle.

(1) If a person uses, or keeps, a vehicle which is unlicensed he is guilty of an offence.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) a vehicle is unlicensed if no vehicle licence or trade licence is in force for or in respect of the vehicle.

Section 33 (1) of VERA provides:

A person is guilty of an offence if—

(a) he uses, or keeps, on a public road a vehicle in respect of which vehicle excise duty is chargeable, and

(b) there is not fixed to and exhibited on the vehicle in the manner prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State a licence for, or in respect of, the vehicle which is for the time being in force.

Good show. And those regulations are the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002 (“RVRs”)

Regulation 6 (4) of the RVRs states:

The licence shall be exhibited on the vehicle—

(c) in the case of any vehicle fitted with a glass windscreen in front of the driver extending across the vehicle to its near side, on or adjacent to the near side of the windscreen [.]

Regulation 6 (5) states:

In each case referred to in paragraph (4), the licence shall be so exhibited that all the particulars on the licence are clearly visible in daylight from the near side of the road.

So there you go.

In summary: not having tax for a car which is used or parked on a public road is an offence – as is not displaying the tax disc.

Note: there are certain exceptions to the offence of being the registered keeper of an unlicensed vehicle (such as the ‘grace period’ between licences), but I’m not getting into that now. If you’re interested, look at section 31B of VERA.

Enforcement of car tax is typically carried out by HMRC (by means of third party enforcement agencies) and the police - almost invariably by the relevant agency cross-checking the vehicle’s registration plate against the relevant national computer. The days of the wooden-topped bobby peering over at the vehicle’s tax disc are largely gone – hence the government’s decision last year to abolish the concept of tax discs and move the vehicle tax regime into the 21st century.