What the legislation says - most blogs are exempt from Leveson regulation
As MPs debated press regulation there was a lot of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere about the fact that the plans agreed by the three party leaders, and now agreed by Parliament, explicitly included certain websites as well as newspapers.
This led to some concern that bloggers would be included in the new regulation.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of that, I think the full text of the amendments agreed by MPs should offer reassurance that the overwhelming majority of bloggers will not be included.
It's important to note that joining the new regulator - which means it has the authority to pass judgment on complaints made against you - is, strictly speaking, voluntary.
The trick is that amendments added by MPs to the Crime and Courts Bill mean that anyone who fails to join the regulator can then be hammered in the courts (on the grounds that they have refused to give people they treat unfairly the option of going to the regulator).
By hammered I mean that the court can award "exemplary damages" against the publisher. These are damages which are higher than usual and are deliberately designed to punish the publisher (whereas damages are usually designed only to compensate the victim).
What's more, the court can take the publisher's refusal to join the regulator into account when deciding who should pay the costs of the case. In other words, the publisher is more likely to be ordered to pay some or all of the costs if they have not joined the regulator.
You can find all this in new clauses 21 to 27, published here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0137/amend/pbc1371803m.1043-1049.html
These clauses are now part of the Bill, after they were approved by the Commons.
But scroll down a bit to new clause 29, which was also approved. Here is where the good news begins.
All of the potential punishments I have mentioned only apply to what the Bill calls "relevant publishers". But what is a relevant publisher?
Clause 29 states it is:
a person who, in the course of a business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit), publishes news-related material--
(a) which is written by different authors, and
(b) which is to any extent subject to editorial control.
(2) News-related material is "subject to editorial control" if there is a person (whether or not the publisher of the material) who has editorial or equivalent responsibility for
(a) the content of the material,
(b) how the material is to be presented, and
(c) the decision to publish it.
(3) A person who is the operator of a website is not to be taken as having editorial or equivalent responsibility for the decision to publish any material on the site, or for content of the material, if the person did not post the material on the site.
So you have to be running a website with more than one contributor. If it's just your own personal site written by you, then you are exempt.
Also, you have to have editorial control of the site. This is designed to prevent websites or services such as Twitter or Facebook being included. They clearly have contributions from more than one person - in fact, from millions of people - but Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc do not have editorial control over what those users post.
Finally, part 3 is designed to ensure you don't become a "relevant publisher" if you run a one-person site but do allow readers to post comments beneath article.
Also, note that you have to run the site "in the course of a business". It seems to me that this would exclude most blogs. However, I'm not sure it's entirely clear what does constitute a "business" (you can certainly be a business without being registered as a company). Any website used in any way to offer goods or services for trade (and note that the legislation specifies that it doesn't have to be for profit) might count as a business. Even so, I think this would exclude many bloggers.
The first line of Clause 29 states that you can only be a "relevant publisher" if you publish "news-related material".
So what is that? Clause 30 explains:
"News-related material" means--
(a) news or information about current affairs,
(b) opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs, or
(c) gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news.
So if that's not what you're doing, you're exempt.
Finally, Schedule 5 sets out more people who are exempt, including:
A person who publishes a title that--
(a) relates to a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession, and
(b) only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main content of the title.
Scientific or academic journals
A person who publishes a scientific or academic journal that only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the scientific or academic content.
Taking all that into account, is the average blog going to be included? It doesn't look like it.
Having said that, I think many larger blogs or websites which perform a similar function to websites published by traditional newspaper publishers will be included.
So, for example, a site like Lichfield Live or Guido Fawkes will be covered (even though Government press officers insist Guido will be immune, for some reason). That's nothing but my guess - if it ever comes down to it, it will be for a court to decide if a specific website owner is a "relevant publisher".
But I do think it's clear that the overwhelming majority of blogs will be excluded.