Out-Law.com reports today that the European Court of Human Rights upheld an English defamation case in which the publication had been online for more than the usual one-year limitation period for defamation suits. [Case of Times Newspapers Ltd (Nos. 1 And 2) v. The United Kingdom]
Though the limitation period runs from publication, each time a web site is accessed is considered a new publication. Thus the limitation period never expires for an online publication.
Does this make sense? (Out-law.com, a publication of the Pinsents law firm in the UK, does not think so.)
On the other hand, print materials tend to grow out of date and inaccessible, particularly periodicals. The Internet never forgets, and with search engines and the Internet Archive, it is pretty easy to resurrect an ancient libel.
I presume Canadian common law is the same as in England on this point. Is that right? (Canadian limitation periods for libel vary from six months to a couple of years, or more. But that wouldn’t matter for online defamation if the periods are restarted every time someone looks at the defamatory text.) American law applies its first publication rule to the Internet as well, so something could be online forever but the person defamed can be statute-barred from any legal remedy.