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A recent court decision indicates that if you are not careful about what you say online you may find yourself subject to legal action in a far-off, distant country. The Internet truly does not recognize geographical or national borders, and whether you like it or not, the law of a foreign country might reach out and grab you. THE CASE: ‘GUTNICK V. DOW JONES & COMPANY, INC.’ Businessman Joesph Gutnick filed suit in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia against U.S.-based Dow Jones with respect to an article published in Barrons Online last year. In an article entitled “Unholy Gains,” Gutnick was described negatively as a customer of a money launderer and a tax evader. Gutnick argued in his lawsuit that he had been defamed under Australian law. Dow Jones argued that the case should be decided in the United States because the article was first published in New Jersey and was intended for an audience in the United States. Even though Barrons Online was not available to anyone in the world on the Internet, because it is published on a subscription-only basis, it nevertheless was published in Australia as well as in the United States. THE DECISION The Supreme Court of Victoria agreed that Gutnick properly could proceed with his lawsuit in Australia. In so ruling, the court noted of Dow Jones’ position: “To say that where the article is written, edited and uploaded and where the publisher does its business, must be the forum is an invitation to entrench the United States, the primary home of much of Internet publishing, as the forum.” With respect to Dow Jones’ argument that “it would be unfair for the publisher to have to litigate in the multitude of jurisdictions in which its statements are downloaded and read,” the court ruled that such a burden “must be balanced against the world-wide inconvenience caused to litigants, from Outer Mongolia to the Outer Barcoo, frequently, not of notable means, who would at enormous expense and inconvenience have to embark on the formidable task of suing in the USA, with its different fee and cost structures and where the libel laws are, in many respects, tilted in favor of defendants, or, if you will, in favor of the constitutional free speech concepts and rights developed by the USA which originated in the liberal construction by the courts of the First Amendment.” Not too surprisingly, based on this analysis, the Supreme Court of Victoria weighed the balance in favor of Gutnick in this particular case. The court was especially moved by the fact that Dow Jones “controls access to its material by reason of the imposition of charges, passwords and the like, and the conditions of supply of material on the Internet.” Moreover, Dow Jones “can, if it chooses to do so, restrict the dissemination of its publication Barrons on the Internet in a number of respects.” LESSON LEARNED The world is becoming a much smaller place. When you go online, not only are you subject to the laws of your own locality and country, you also may find yourself subject to the laws of a foreign nation. With respect to potential defamation, it always is a good idea to speak the truth, as truth generally is a solid defense in such cases. But still, no one person can know the laws of all jurisdictions that may apply to particular online conduct. Thus, the necessary evil of seeking out legal counsel may be well advised. Eric J. Sinrod is a partner focusing on technology and litigation matters in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris, a national law firm. Mr. Sinrod’s Web site is sinrodlaw.com and he may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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