Can’t censor the internet? Tell that to your compliant ISP

This morning’s Observer column

Dr Godfrey sued for defamation and, in 1997, won. Demon appealed but then unexpectedly decided to settle, paying Godfrey damages and costs. As a result, a chilling legal precedent was set which essentially undermines Gilmore’s blithe confidence in the ability of the net to overcome censorship. Godfrey v. Demon Internet established the principle that if you complain to an ISP about something hosted on its servers and the ISP does nothing about it, it can be held liable in subsequent proceedings.

Every since then, censoring the web has been child’s play, at least in the UK and Europe. Here’s how it works. If you don’t like something someone says about you on a website, get a lawyer to write a ‘notice and takedown’ (snotty, in other words) letter to the ISP that hosts the site. Seven times out of 10, the ISP will pull the plug on the site without further ado – and certainly without considering whether your complaint has any merit.

You think I jest?