Computer crimes, case I KZP 7/10

July 9th, 2010, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Supreme Court in its order of 29 June 2010 case file I KZP 7/10 held that, the prescription of defamation crime is counted from the date of publication of the offensive content. This crime is defined in the provisions of Article 212 of the Criminal Code – CRC – (in Polish: Kodeks Karny) of 6 June 1997, published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No 88, item 553, with subsequent amendments.

Article 212. § 1. Whoever imputes to another person, a group of persons, an institution or organisational unit not having the status of a legal person, such conduct, or characteristics that may discredit them in the face of public opinion or result in a loss of confidence necessary for a given position, occupation or type to activity
shall be subject to a fine, the penalty of restriction of liberty or the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to one year.
§ 2. If the perpetrator commits the act specified in § 1 through the mass media
shall be subject to a fine, the penalty of restriction of liberty or the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to 2 years.
§ 3. When sentencing for an offence specified in §1 or 2, the court may adjudge a supplementary payment in favour of the injured person or of the Polish Red Cross, or of another social purpose designated by the injured person a supplementary payment (nawiązka).
§ 4. The prosecution of the offence specified in § 1 or 2 shall occur upon a private charge.

This issue was referred to the Supreme Court by the District Court, who had inquired whether the defamation is a crime of continuous nature, which means that in case of defamatory entry placed on the Internet, it is committed as long as entry is available on the website. Interestingly, the SC refused to answer this question but the Court deliberated very wide on this issue in the justification of the order. The Supreme Court ruled that on-line defamation is not a continuous crime, which would involve creating and maintaining the status recognized by law as unlawful. The Court was aware of the fact the interests of the victim are violated as long as the defamatory content is publicly available on a website. However, per analogy to the printed press, where the victim’s interests are harmed as long as there are archived copies of newspapers containing offensive words.

The Supreme Court held that the offense involving the placement of a defamatory content in the Internet as referred to in article 212 § 2 of the CC is committed at the moment to making an entry and not while removing it. This means that the perpetrator cannot be prosecuted with the private charge after a year from the time when the victim learned about the offender, but no later than the expiry of three years from the time it was committed.