[ Edit: it appears that the Court struck out a preliminary motion to close down the site and rejected the original claim. The Plaintiffs seem to have indicated that they will re-file the claim. ]
The good news is that yesterday, the Supreme Court struck out the ($42M) defamation suit against the operator of ZGeek.
While we're very thankful that this defamation action went no further, the fact that it got as far as it did shows a serious problem with a lack of certainty in Australian law. The non-profit website operator had to expend significant funds donated by the site's members in order to defend the action, and is now saying that the organisation will no longer be able to operate in Australia, given the stress and risk of further legal action:
But now, some even worse news. ZGeek is abandoning Australia. ZGeek as a company has been shut down and any future of the site conducting business in Australia is just not going to happen until the laws change as they offer no protection for internet content hosts based in Australia. Basically, if you allow comment on your website and you live here, you are open for the same troubles as I am having. Even if your site is hosted OS. Got your own blog? Be very worried. Even after we complied with their lawyers demands they are still coming after me and the Broadcasting Act allows them.
Unfortunately, this lack of certainty is a recurring theme in Australian internet laws. Our copyright laws are unclear enough that companies like iiNet are exposed to risky litigation because the movie industry alleges that some of its customers infringed copyright and that iiNet has an obligation to disconnect subscribers based upon unsubstantiated allegations of infringement. The safe harbours are complicated and their scope is unclear. Our defamation laws provide only partial and uncertain protection for website operators, as this case demonstrates. Our censorship laws hold Australian hosts who even link to potentially prohibited material liable for fines of up to $11,000 a day. This level of uncertainty and risk is driving business off-shore and harming our competitive advantage, not to mention the ability of Australians to express themselves online.