The latest twist in the Leveson saga is the Government’s proposed amendments to protect ‘small scale bloggers’.
We previously warned the drafting meant groups like Big Brother Watch could be covered, along with websites like ConHome and Mumsnet.
The amendment makes clear if you’re a multi-author blog with a turnover below £2m, you won’t be considered a ‘relevant publisher’ for the purposes of exemplary damages and cost protections. This is an important clarification. (Although the bill does still appear to lack a definition of ‘blog’, which could prove interesting – and expensive to argue in court.)
However, the drafting only protects either ‘incidental’ publishers of news-related material, or multi-author blogs. So someone who is not a blog, who publishes news-related material on a regular basis, remains in scope even if their turnover is £10,000.
In other words, if you’re a small, local newspaper with 3 staff and a turnover of £100,000 then you’re still a relevant publisher, but if you are a £1.5m turnover blog with 8 full time staff you’re not.
Aside from the obvious competition law issues – it locks in the existing publishers by increasing the barriers to start-ups – it is also a fundamental problem that freedom of speech online and freedom of speech offline are diverging so significantly. (And that’s before we get to the nub of the issue, that parliamentary legislation on who is a relevant publisher for the purpose of exemplary damages and cost penalties is quite definitely statutory regulation of the press.)
So – it’s groundhog day. We need another amendment! One option appears to be in clause 7(2) to add after ‘blog’ to add the phrase ‘or publication’.
Government amendment to Crime and Courts Bill:
7A (1) A person who, in carrying on a micro-business, publishes news-related
material where either condition A or condition B is met.
(2) Condition A is that the news-related material is contained in a multi-author
(3) Condition B is that the news-related material is published on an incidental
basis that is relevant to the main activities of the business.
(4) “Micro-business” means a business which—
(a) has fewer than 10 employees, and
(b) has an annual turnover not exceeding £2,000,000.
(5) The number of employees is to be calculated as follows—
(a) find the total number of hours per week for which all the employees of
the business are contracted to work;
(b) divide that number by 37.5.
(6) “Employee” has the same meaning as in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (see
section 230 of that Act).
(7) “Multi-author blog” means a blog that contains contributions from different