Twenty independent individuals pitch their expertise to provide a voluntary online legal service for Internet users.
Contributed By Annabelle Low
|PHOTO COURTESY OF CITE|
Do you know what to do if a personal opinion or a visitor comment posted on your blog gets you into hot soup? The letters to look up are “C” “I” “T” and “E”, which stands for Community of Information Technology Experts—a free online legal service supported by the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
At a news conference on Sep. 22 at the Nanyang Technological University Alumni Club @ One North chaired by Professor Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre, CITE’s raison d’être was revealed—a distressing increase in private individuals facing defamation lawsuits from corporations over postings on online blogs or message boards.
In October 2009, for example, a local food blogger, Kaelyn Ong, was threatened with legal action for an unflattering review of Obolo, a cake shop in Joo Chiat. In July this year, an international school sued a parent who kept a blog about the school, claiming that the comments posted by other parents on the blog were defamatory. In actual fact, the individuals in these two instances were merely expressing their opinions, but because they did not understand their rights, they simply relented in the face of lawsuits. CITE was formed out of a sense of injustice toward these incidences of corporate “bullying.”
Comprising 20 independent IT experts, academics and leading lawyers in Singapore, CITE aims to provide voluntary legal information to netizens of their rights and responsibilities. Notable members include Siew Kum Hong, former Nominated Member of Parliament and a corporate counsel specializing in Internet and technology law, Bryan Ghows, a director at TSMP Law Corporation, Lim Yee Fen, a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Bryan Tan, director of Keystone Law Corporation, which handled the world’s first mass e-mail defamation case and registrar-level domain name dispute.
Catering to netizens and small businesses whose financial circumstances and lack of resources prevent them from obtaining legal information elsewhere, CITE will provide information on intellectual property (relating to copyrights, trademarks or design), defamation or liability, domain name disputes, unauthorized access defense and Internet write-ups and reviews. This includes guidelines on creating parodies and mash-ups of videos.
Ghows, formerly an employee at Microsoft, pointed out, “The information found online regarding defamation laws is very US-specific. It is difficult to find material regarding defamation in the context of Singapore law.” Added Lim, “Defamation acts are territorial—the same act committed in one country may be permissible in another.” CITE aims to build up a repository of information and guidelines, as there is currently no legislation regarding defamation and copyright material in Singapore.
However, due to the regulations of Singapore law, CITE will not be dispensing legal advice, but the matching of legal and technology experts to people who need such assistance. Additionally, CITE is adopting an educational model by conducting information sessions and providing articles through its website to educate the public about their online rights.
When asked if any current issues this year have caught CITE’s attention, Ang cautioned bloggers and Internet users to be sensible when posting on the upcoming General Elections. At the same time, moderation is important. He said, “When people are too cautious, they become resentful … there’s actually a lot of space for navigation.”
As an online-based resource, netizens who wish to consult CITE can access CITE’s website to fill up an online form. The completed form will then be screened and submitted to the relevant members of CITE for consideration, who will then respond accordingly.
For more information on CITE, log on to www.sirc.ntu.edu.sg/Services/CITE. CITE is supported by the Singapore Internet Research Centre at NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.