A new guide to libel laws for bloggers in the UK has been published as part of a campaign to reform existing legislation.

The guide, entitled 'So you've had a threatening letter. What can you do?', has been compiled by independent charitable trust Sense About Science, in association with Index on Censorship, English PEN, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Association of British Science Writers and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

The document contains definitions of defamation and information about what to do in response to the threat of libel action and what defences might be available.

The publication has been produced following Sense About Science's recent survey of the impact of libel laws on online discussion, which looked in particular at how online forums are affected by current laws and found that internet service providers and non-journalists unfamiliar with media law have been left vulnerable.

The campaign group has also published a summary of its survey results and key cases that have arisen since the launch of the Libel Reform campaign last year with Index on Censorship and English PEN. The summary has also been shared with the Ministry of Justice.

"Reform of English libel law has been promised, and if campaigners are successful, then changes that will give better defences to online publishers and writers may come into force in 2012," says Sense About Science.

"Online blogs and articles are available around the world, increasing risk of legal action from international figures. Online writers often don’t have institutional support and easy access to legal advice. How you react in the first few weeks after you receive a threat is crucial in deflecting an unfounded claim or correcting something you got wrong. This leaflet is certainly not a substitute for legal advice, but it does provide information which other bloggers and writers who have been through the experience say they wished they had known at the outset," says the guide.

Today Yahoo, AOL UK, Mumsnet and the Internet Service Providers Association published an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron asking for better provisions to be made in the government's proposals for a new Defamation Bill for forums, ISPs and "ordinary citizens" using online publishing tools and website.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).