Grageda, Joanna Mayelle: May a Domain Name be Subject of Libel?

I was a victim of libel through internet. A certain guy who happened to be my former friend posted a very libelous statement in my Friendster account. My friend called me up and informed me about the libelous comment. I panicked and hurriedly looked for an available computer. There, I read his comment. Not only that, he also posted the same libelous article in his bulletin board message which indicated his clear intention to publish it. I felt shocked and degraded. The feeling is that it is as if someone raped me. I suffered sleepless nights and severe mental anguish. I filed a case against him for Libel and is now ongoing in the Quezon City Hall. The problem is that he never showed up. But despite of it, I am eager to make him suffer the consequences of his act. Since then I have been empathizing on the people who are also victims of libel.

Under the Revised Penal Code Libel is categorized as Crimes against Honor. It is defined as a public imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

Publication of a malicious article is an important requirement for libel case to prosper. The word Publish means to make known or to circulate. Article 359 0f the Revised Penal Code provides for the requirements for publicity of Libel and states that:

Art. 354. Requirements for publicity- Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown, except in the following cases:

1. A private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty; and

2. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, relative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.

The law points out the importance of publication. I have proven that internet libel indeed exists and it can prosper after the establishment of the proper requisites. But what if it is the domain name itself which is libelous? Will it fall under the meaning of an article which can be subject to publication?

For better understanding, we have to take into the consideration the brief explanation of what a domain name is. According to the Webopedia, a domain name is a name that identifies one or more IP addresses. For example, the domain name microsoft.com represents about a dozen IP addresses. Domain names are used in URLs to identify particular Webpages. For example, in the URL http://www.pcwebopedia.com/index.html, the domain name is pcwebopedia.com.

Every domain name has a suffix that indicates which top level domain (TLD) it belongs to. There are only a limited number of such domains. For example:

  • ·gov – Government agencies
  • ·edu – Educational institutions
  • ·org – Organizations (nonprofit)
  • ·mil – Military
  • ·com – commercial business
  • ·net – Network organizations
  • ·ca – Canada
  • ·th – Thailand

Because the Internet is based on IP addresses, not domain names, every Web server requires a Domain Name System (DNS) server to translate domain names into IP addresses.

Gleaning to the law itself and understanding the meaning of libel and requirements for publication and after taking a look at the brief domain name explanation, my answers to the questions would be in the positive. Prior to the existence of computers people have been using the newspaper of general circulation or any other writings or printed document as means of committing libel. But now, with the passage of E-commerce law, libel may now be committed using the internet.

The domain name is used by people in order to get into a certain web page. It is uniquely created for easy access and viewing of the contents of a certain individual, group, association or any other entity’s business proposals, bibliography etc. When an individual created a defamatory domain name it is equivalent into publication for the simple reason of making it available to the public. Meaning anyone can easily use it as a reference.

An example of a URL with a defamatory domain name is http://www.pokpoksi******.com wherein the domain name is pokpoksi******.com. Such webpage with defamatory domain name need not contain any offensive images, videos or article against ******. The domain name itself constitutes libel.

The requisites of libel are:

1. There must be an imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance;

2. The imputation must be made publicly;

3. It must be malicious;

4. The imputation must be directed to a natural or juridical person, or one who is dead;

5. the imputation must tend to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of the person defamed

The first requisite is present in the given example. The mere fact of creating such defamatory domain name constitutes an imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imginary, or ANY ACT, OMISSION, CONDITION, STATUS OR CIRCUMSTANCE. Upon creation, the culprit has in his mind the intention to defame and degrade the reputation of ****** and such willful act is strictly punishable under the law.

Anent the second requisite, it was indeed created for the public. At the pain of being repetitive, a domain name is used to identify particular web pages. The domain name can be used by anyone who wishes to view a certain web page. It is presumably created for the enjoyment of everyone. ******, being a very popular Filipina actress has made herself available and an icon to the public and almost 90 percent of the country’s population knows her.

The third requisite is malice. According to the book of Luis B. Reyes, malice is of two kinds which are MALICE IN FACT and MALICE IN LAW. Malice in fact is the law which presumes from every statement whose tenor is defamatory. It does not need proof. The mere fact of utterance or statement is defamatory negates a legal presumption of malice. If the tenor of the utterance or statement is defamatory, the legal presumption of malice arises even without proof. This kind of malice requires evidence.

Malice in law can be negated by evidence that, in fact, the alleged libelous or defamatory utterance made with good motives and justifiable ends or by the fact that the utterance was privileged in character.

The kind of malice that is present in the given example is malice in fact which does not require proof. It is enough that the defamatory statement be offered and presented in court and it is up to the magistrate to declare whether or not such statement is defamatory, Simply put, the existence of defamation rests upon the sound discretion of the court after the prosecution laid down its cards without exerting so much effort on the pieces of evidence to prove malice.

The fourth requisite is that the imputation must be directed to a natural or juridical person, or one who is dead. This requisite is directed not only to natural persons but even to juridical or dead person. In addition to the involvement of dead person, the imputation must also blacken his memory. This is because one who is dead cannot protect himself from the pains of being a victim of libel so the State affords him equal protection in order to protect his honor.

In the case of Newsweek vs. IAC, the Supreme Court ranted the motion to quash the complain on the ground that the facts alleged do not constitute an offense since there is no definite person/persons dishonored the crime of libel or slander is a crime against honor such that the person/s dishonored must be unidentifiable even by innuendoes: otherwise the crime against honor is not committed.

The creation of the domain name pokpoksi******.com certainly was with apparent malice and pertaining to a very identifiable person ******. Accordingly, the person defame need not be expressly identified. It is enough that such person could be possibly identified. As a matter of fact, compliment which is undeserved may constitute libel.

As to the fifth requisite that the imputation must tend to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of the person defamed. The word “pokpok” is a Filipino tagline pertaining to a Filipina slut. The exact meaning of it cannot be found in the dictionaries because the term was actually created through Filipino traits and culture which has its own meaning right after its creation. A slut is one who engages into sexual activities with different men with or without compensation. ******, being legally married to a well-respected Senator, a mother of three girls and a grand slam actress who has been available to the public eye since she was a kid has definitely an image to protect and honor deserving of high respects. The defamatory domain name does not only cast dishonor to her reputation but also to her whole family as well.

From the definition of libel under the Revised Penal Code, the law does not only confine libel to the creation of articles. The law also states under Article 355.Libel by means of Writings or Similar Means:

A libel may be committed by means of-

1. writing
2. printing
3. lithography
4. engraving
5. Radio;
6. Photograph;
7. painting;
8. theatrical exhibition;
9. cinematographic exhibition; or
10. Any other similar means.

The creation of defamatory statement using a domain name falls under number ten which is any other similar means. The domain name pokpoksi******.com has a complete thought and can easily be comprehended by people especially the Filipinos. Since it has a complete thought, it forms part of a statement which is capable of destroying one’s reputation by without the need of exerting so much effort to understand the meaning of it. That alone possesses power to degrade someone’s person. It need not be an article which is usually written and published in the general circulation in order to be libelous. The law only requires the presence of the above-mentioned requisites. Applying the statutory construction, where the law does not distinguish, we must not distinguish.

Deviating from the traditional means of committing libel which is through newspapers of general circulation or any other similar means, we now look at the definition of computer to be able to understand how it can also be means of committing libel.

Section 1 paragraph (e) of the Electronic Rules on Evidence refers to computer as to any single or interconnected device or apparatus, which, by electronic, eletromechanical, or magnetic impulse, or by any other means with the same function, can receive, record, transmit, store, process, correlate, analyze, project, retrieve and/or produce information, data, text, graphics, figures, voice, video, symbols or other modes of expression or perform any one or more of these functions.

Section 2 of the same Rule provides for the admissibility of the said electronic document which states that the evidence is admissible if it complies with the rules on admissibility prescribed by the Rules of Court and related laws and is authenticated in the manner prescribed by these Rules.

These Rules on Electronic Evidence are the bases for the libel case through internet. It also encompasses the wide range of media, telephone communications and cell phone companies. As a matter of fact, even a defamatory text message can be the subject of libel. This is simply because these means affect the lives of people by relying on them for easy communication which is adopted by our community as part of our everyday routines.

In other countries like the United States, one of the defenses of libel is the truth and veracity of the imputation but in our law, the defense of truth and veracity of the imputation cannot be accepted except when:

1. When the act or omission imputed constitutes a crime regardless of whether the offended party is a private individual or a public officer;

2. When the offended party is a government employee, even if the act or omission imputed does not constitute a crime, provided if it is related to the discharge of his official duties.

The domain name pokpoksi******.com is not an act or omission which is constitutive of a crime neither is she a government employee acting within the discharge of her office. She is simply a mother, a wife and an individual who works in the entertainment world to help sustain her family’s needs. In the absence of proof that such domain name falls under the exceptions, the defense as to the truth and veracity of the imputation cannot be admitted as evidence and be used as a defense.

According to one of the well-respected Professor and Dean Ortega:

‘Even if what was imputed is true, the crime of libel is committed unless one acted with good motives or justifiable end. Proof of truth of a defamatory imputation is not even admissible in evidence, unless what was imputed pertains to an act which constitutes a crime and when the person to whom the imputation was made is a public officer and the imputation pertains to the performance of official duty. Other than these, the imputation is not admissible.’

Hence, there is no other way of admitting the admissibility of such imputation unless it falls within the two exceptions provided for by law. These defenses also require three requisites which are:

1. If it appears that the matter charged as libelous is true;
2. It was published with good motives;
3. It was for justifiable ends.

These requisites must be present in the defenses for libel. It requires strict compliance because of the danger of the crime and the damage that it may cause the offended party. A domain name may not be an article which is susceptible of being published in the normal course of committing libel but it is definitely a means of imputation which is prosecuted under the Philippine law.

The law now accepts the fact that our country is rapidly changing with the world and with the existence, advantage and disadvantages of electronic devices, we have to deal with the improvements as well as the consequences of such accordingly. The usage of domain name is necessary for without which, one cannot access a certain web page and the creator cannot restrict its usage to certain classes of persons, society, community or entity.

Hence, the domain name indeed is libelous if all the requisites of libel are present. Since it is used as a means to access the different web pages, it is susceptible of being published and made publicly. It need not be in a paragraph form. The means used is immaterial as long as the statement can cast dishonor to an identifiable person and is made known to the public through publication without the intention of publishing it with good motives, the matter charged as libelous does not impute an act or omission which constitutes as a crime and was made without justifiable ends.

I believe that libel must be dealt with severely. As a woman who had been a victim and suffered the damages of libel through internet, I know what damage it can cause to an individual especially to his/her family. To distinguish one means of committing libel from another would open the way for prospective libelous remarks thus defeating the ends of justice.

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