New York: Internet service providers (ISPs) in the United States are celebrating a Supreme Court ruling that gave them full protection against any libellous or abusive message sent over the Web.
Free speech advocates backed the US ruling, which puts ISPs on the same footing as telephone companies as message carriers.
The ruling contrasts with a recent case in Britain, where the ISP Demon Internet paid a university lecturer £15,000 ($40,000) plus legal fees of about £250,000 because he was the subject of allegedly libellous bulletin-board postings.
Although it was an out-of-court settlement, and British law is still unclear, the Demon case alarmed British ISPs and Web publishers. Within days of the settlement, British ISPs closed two Web sites - a gay site called Outcast and an anti-censorship site.
In the US on Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a previous ruling against Mr Alexander Lunney, who had sought damages from the ISP Prodigy after an impostor used his name to send threatening and profane messages. At the time, in 1994, Mr Lunney was 15.
The New York Court of Appeals had supported Prodigy's defence that it was not liable for messages sent over its system.
Mr Robert Lunney, the plaintiff's father, criticised the ruling. "You and I can be the victim of something like this tomorrow ... The courts have given the Internet providers full immunity," he said.
The top 10 Internet nations were the US ( with an estimated 135million users by the end of this year), Japan (26.9million) Germany (19.1million), Britain (17.9million), China (15.8million), Canada (15.2million), South Korea (14.8million), Italy (11.6million), Brazil (10.6million) and France (9million).
The Guardian, Agence France-Presse