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Celebs Can Sue EU-Wide for Web Defamation

(CN) - The European Union's high court decided two defamation cases involving celebrities Tuesday, establishing jurisdiction for tort claims on online content.

The first case had to do with Bavarian actor Walter Sedlmayr, who was murdered in 1990. Two brothers - Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber, Sedlmayr's business associates - were convicted three years later of killing the gay multimillionaire, presumably out of greed.

Despite their life sentences, Werlé and Lauber were released on parole in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Lauber, who is identified in the ruling as "X," asked the German courts to order eDate Advertising, an Austrian company that runs gay Web portal Rainbow.at, to remove his name in association with reports about the crime.

The second case was connected to an article titled "Kylie Minogue is back with Olivier Martinez," published on the UK's Sunday Mirror website.

Minogue, an Australian singer, and Martinez, a French actor, said this publication interfered with their personal lives, and sued MGN, the UK-based parent of the Sunday Mirror.

The Court of Justice of the European Union considered the two cases jointly after German and French courts referred questions about jurisdiction for online-defamation claims.

It decided Tuesday that online content should be treated distinctly from print, as such "content may be consulted instantly by an unlimited number of Internet users throughout the world."

This makes allegations of personal-rights infringements relating to the Web particularly serious, the court said.

Although the legal framework for defamation in print form designates jurisdiction in the member state where the publication is based, online claims should merit jurisdiction in the habitual residence where the person bringing the claim is based, the court said.

As with print, claims for damages may be brought in every state where the content was accessible - which would theoretically include every EU country for online content.

Claims for damages in member countries, however, would be limited to the actual damage that occurred in that state, the Luxembourg-based court concluded.

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