A business claiming online defamation can take legal action in the jurisdiction where it believes the most damage was done rather than in its place of business, the advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union has indicated. In an opinion published yesterday, Michal Bobek said the place ‘where the harm occurred is likely to be where the reputation of the person was most strongly hit’.

The opinion relates to a dispute between Estonian company Bolagsupplysningen OÜ and Svensk Handel AB, a Swedish trade federation. Bolagsupplysningen does most of its business in Sweden, though its headquarters are in Estonia. 

Bolagsupplysningen sued in Estonia after being placed on a blacklist on Svensk Handel’s website for alleged ‘lies and deceit’. More than 1,000 responses to the blacklisting were posted online. The company demanded the blacklisting and comments be removed as well as for €56.6 million (£49.8m) in damages.

To pursue the action in Estonia, Bolagsupplysningen said it wanted an exception to the general rule of taking action in the defendant’s domicile. It asked the Estonian court to apply the EU’s special jurisdiction rule, and the court in turn asked the CJEU for guidance.

In his preliminary opinion, Bobek said that in defamation cases the place were the defendant was most affected is the true centre of the dispute and that place is likely to be where that person or company also has its centre of interests. Bobek added that the relevant jurisdiction would have full competence, adjudicating on the entirety of the alleged harm and deciding what remedies to allow.

Advocate general opinions are not binding on the CJEU but are frequently reflected in the outcome of the case.