Free speech is dead

Alisher Usmanov’s shut down of Criag Murray’s blog is yet another example of how British law makes it easy for the rich to shut down less well heeled critics with the threat of legal action. They do not need to actually convince a court that they have been libelled.

The underlying problem is that web hosting companies can be liable any conent distributed by their servers. This is as ludicrous as holding BT liable for a libellous telephone conversation over their network.

Hosting companies cannot take the risk (after all, they did not write or publish the material, how can they know if it is libellous or not), so they simply shut down any site that they get a threatening letter over.

The end result is that only those will enough money to make more expensive arrangements can freely ciriticise litigous individuals. The amount of money involved is not huge, but a significant barrier to many private individuals.

If having a dedicted server is sufficient to remove responsibility from hosting companies (as they no longer control the server), then we are looking at a minumum of £300 a year (typically a lot more though) for online free speech. If it requires hiring data centre racks, or connections to your own premises, it would be many thousands of pounds a year.

Many other countries (including the US) grant a “common carrier” exemption to webhosts. This means that the person who can be sued for libel is the publsiher of a website. This is perfectly fair, they are responsible, not everyone who supplies them with IT services.

In this particular case Craig Murray is a fairly well known person,a former British Ambassador to Uzbeckistan. He has raised very serious allegations against (Uzbeck billionaire) Alisher Usmanov. He has also stated that he would like to be sued so that a British court could decide on the truth of the allegations.

Rather than clear his name by suing Murray, Usmanov’s lawyers have gone for an easy way of shutting Murray up. Why?

As far as I am concerned, Usmanov public behaviour, in a attempting to suppress discussion in this way is sufficient to convince me he is someone we do not want in Britain. The UK has strict immigration laws that make it impossible for ordinary foreign people (unless higly skilled) to work in the country, and which put many tourists though extensive tests (interviews, fingerprinting, checks of police records… …). Why has Usmanov been allowed in with credible and serious allegations against him? Why do the rich always get a free pass?

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