The Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) is undertaking a project on defamation law in the age of the internet. As part of the development of the consultation paper, the LCO will fund a number of research papers that will inform our development of options for reform.
A catalyst for reform has been the constitutional enshrinement of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over the past few decades, courts have responded by making incremental adjustments to defamation doctrine with the effect of giving increased weight to freedom of expression. A similar adjustment is evident in Ontario’s recent enactment of the Protection of Public Participation Act.
Another catalyst for reform is the emergence of the internet. The internet has had a profound effect on how we communicate. It instantly puts us in touch with a potentially global audience and we can speak to that audience anonymously. Increasingly, publications are electronic, whether they are in the form of a traditional media news story, a digital media news story, a blog or a social media post. This raises a host of specific issues in defamation law, including whether and when internet intermediaries should be liable for publications posted by others, when courts should assume jurisdiction over multistate internet defamation actions, whether notice provisions applicable to traditional media should be extended to others, and so on. It also raises more fundamental issues, such as who is the media, is the nature of reputation changing, is the nature of privacy changing and what is the relationship between privacy and defamation law.
From November 2015 to May 2016, the LCO conducted preliminary research and consultations in order to understand the overall context in which defamation law operates and to identify particular issues that the project will address. Based on this initial work and our ongoing research, the LCO is now developing a consultation paper that will review and analyse a range of issues and set out questions for public consultation. It expects to release the consultation paper in early 2017 and this will form the foundation of the public consultations process that will follow.
The LCO has identified eight potential research paper topics, listed below. It will also consider proposals on other topics that would make a demonstrable contribution to the understanding of the issues identified in the description of the project on our website and that would benefit from external, expert knowledge that the LCO might not be able gain otherwise through internal research and consultations.
The research paper topics the LCO has identified are:
- Revisiting the Core Elements of Defamation Law, Too Late to Change?
- Bridging the Technological/Doctrinal Divide: How the Technology Behind Internet Communications Impacts Defamation Law Doctrine.
- Reassessment of Pre-trial and Post-trial Remedies in Defamation Actions.
- Are We Asking Too Much from Defamation Law? Reputation Systems, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Industry Regulation and Other Extra-Judicial Possibilities for Protecting Reputation in the Internet Age.
- Defamation and Youth in the Digital Age.
- Anonymity and Online Defamation.
- Internet Intermediary Liability for Online Defamation.
- Relationship Between Defamation, Breach of Privacy and Other Legal Claims Involving Offensive Internet Content.
- Other paper topics requiring expert research that would make a demonstrable contribution to the LCO’s project.
Research proposals must be submitted to the LCO by midnight on September 16, 2016.
Questions about proposals must be addressed to the project head, Sue Gratton, in accordance with the terms set out in the Call for Research Papers.