The appropriate Court for the investigation of cases of libel must be that in which those cases of libel are received. Therefore registering an Italian website abroad does not protect website owners from being sued for libel.
This is what has been established by a recent ruling of (the first section of) the Supreme Court, which had been asked to rule on a conflict of territorial competence between two courts, both of which were involved in the same proceedings against a website administrator charged with libel regarding the content of an article published on his website.
This dual procedure was the result of action taken by the Italian Judiciary Police who – on receiving the request from the plaintiff to prosecute for libel – sent the relative documents both to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Sassari, the city where the defendant resides, and to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Arezzo, where the website servers reside.
The Supreme Court judge ruled that the Sassari Court was that authorized to proceed. In fact, territorial competence related to telematic libel cases is not to be assigned to the place where the information is put on the net but rather it is to be assigned to the place where “offence and denigration is received by a number of net users”.
Clearly, a website is by its very nature intended to be used simultaneously by a large number of individuals residing in many different places. Therefore it is impossible to use objective criteria – such as the place of access of the first visitor to the website – in order to assign territorial competence.
Thus, given that it is impossible to determine the location where the act of libel is perceived, competence is assigned to the Court of the location where the defendant resides, as provided for by art. 9, paragraph 2 of the Italian Criminal Code.
The Supreme Court ruling is worthy of consideration in that it sheds light, at least regarding libel, on the question of juridical territorial competence on the net, which is a particularly delicate aspect of Internet law on the international scene.