What’s Libelous on the Internet Under Philippine Law

The explosive revelations in Brian Gorell’s blog a couple of years ago opened not only the alleged secret lives of the country’s elite set, but questions on the scope of libel in cyberspace. First, it is important to know the definition of libel under Philippine laws. Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code defines libel as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”

Based on the given definition, an insinuation must have the following requisites in order to be considered libelous.

  • It should be defamatory
  • It should be malicious
  • It should be revealed in public
  • The person/subject in question should be identifiable

If you call somebody names and used defamatory words to describe the person, you can be sued for libel, even though your statements are true. Accusations can be considered malicious if there is an intention to defame the name and reputation of a person without just cause. Also, the defamation should be given publicly, whether in blogs, forums or message boards. To complete the validity of a libel suit, the person victimized by the offending words should be identifiable.

Because the libelous words can be seen on the Internet, some people will assume that service providers should be held liable for the malicious acts. But most of the time, service providers cannot be held responsible for the libel. Under Republic Act no. 8792, otherwise known as the Electronic Commerce Act, a party or person acting as a service provider incurs no civil or criminal liability in the making, publication, dissemination or distribution of libelous material if:

a) The service provider does not have actual knowledge, or is not aware of the facts or circumstances from which it is apparent that making, publication, dissemination or distribution of such material is unlawful or infringes any rights;

b) The service provider does not knowingly receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity;

c) The service provider does not directly commit any infringement or other unlawful act and does not induce or cause another person or party to commit any infringement or other unlawful act and/or does not benefit financially from the infringing activity or unlawful act of another person or party.

So unless a service provider has actual knowledge of the libel, gain financial benefit from it or directly committed the libel himself, he should not be held liable. What service providers should do however is to remove the offending material as soon as possible and terminate the account responsible for creating the libel. This will show that the service provider acts responsibly and does not tolerate such acts.

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