Brett Wilson LLP v Person(s) Unknown, Responsible for the Operation of the Website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, 7 September (Warby J)  EWHC 2628 (QB) – read judgment
This was a claim in libel by a firm of solicitors who acted for another firm which also claimed against the operators of SFHUK, causing the original site to be shut down (Law Society v Rick Kordowski ). In this case the words complained of appeared on a new site, but despite efforts by the present claimants, it was not possible to find out who was operating it. The site alleged various aspects of mismanagement, including incompetence and fraud. It also quoted a client of the claimant firm who alleged overcharging and who refused to pay their fees. (It is worth noting that the site appears to have been taken down since default judgement was given in this case)
The Bussey Law Firm PC & Anor v Page  EWHC 563 (QB) – read judgment
The facts of this case are simple. A defamatory comment was posted on the claimant’s Google maps directional page, implying that he was a “loser” as a lawyer and that his firm lost “80%” of cases brought to them. The defendant claimed that someone must have hacked in to his own Google account to put up the post.
There were jurisdictional complications in that the firm is situated in Colarado but these need not concern us here as Sir David Eady, sitting as a High Court judge, allowed the trial to go ahead in England. The real question was why any third party would have gone to the trouble of hacking into the defendant’s Google account in order to post the offending review; if the objective were merely to hide the hacker’s identity from the claimants, there would be the simpler option of setting up an anonymous Google account. This would in itself render the would-be publisher untraceable, and especially if it were done from a public computer. Continue reading
Delfi AS v Estonia (Application no. 64569/09) 10 October 2013 – read judgment
This case concerned the liability of an Internet news portal for offensive comments that were posted by readers below one of its online news articles. The following summary is based on the Strasbourg Court’s press release.
The applicant company owns one of the largest internet news sites in Estonia. In January 2006, Delfi published an article on its webpage about a ferry company. It discussed the company’s decision to change the route its ferries took to certain islands. This had caused ice to break where ice roads could have been made in the near future. As a result, the opening of these roads – a cheaper and faster connection to the islands compared to the ferry services – was postponed for several weeks. Below the article, readers were able to access the comments of other users of the site. Many readers had written highly offensive or threatening posts about the ferry operator and its owner. Continue reading
ZAM v CFW & Anor  EWHC 662 (QB) – read judgment
The permanent damage that internet publications can inflict is very much the focus of Tugendhat J’s assessment of damages in this case, encapsulated in the memorable description he quoted in an earlier judgment:
what is to be found on the internet may become like a tattoo.
Since the advent of internet search engines, information which in the past would have been forgotten (even if it had been received front page coverage) will today remain easily accessible indefinitely. So a libel claimant who has a judgment in his favour nevertheless risks having his name associated with the false allegations for an indefinite period.
This is just what had happened in the present case. The second defendant’s liability for libel had already been established. This hearing was to assess the appropriate level of damages for allegations he had published on the internet, in breach of restraining orders against him, suggesting the claimant was guilty of misappropriation of family funds and paedophilia. Continue reading
Tamiz v Google Inc  EWCA Civ 68 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that in principle, an internet service provider that allowed defamatory material to remain on a blog hosted on its platform after it had been notified of a complaint might be a “publisher” of this material, although in this case the probable damage to the complainant’s reputation over a short period was so trivial that libel proceedings could not be justified.
This interesting case suggests there may be an opening for liability of Google for defamation, if certain steps have been taken to fix them with knowledge of the offending statement. Mr Tamiz, who claimed to have been defamed by comments posted on the “London Muslim Blog” between 28 and 30 April 2011, appealed a decision in the court below to decline jurisdiction in his claim against the respondent corporation and to set aside an order for service of proceedings on Google out of the jurisdiction. Continue reading
Mcgrath v Dawkins, Amazon and others  EWHC B3 (QB) -read judgment
In an interesting ruling on a strike-out action against a libel claim, a High Court judge has delineated the scope for defamation in blog posts and discussion threads where the audience is small and the libel limited.
The claimant, C, is the author of a book entitled “The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need To Know”. Published at the same time on the same general topic, but taking the opposite side, was “The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life” by the very well-known scientist Professor Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Both books were available for purchase through the Amazon UK website run by the third defendant.
Amazon includes an online public-access facility, through which any member of the public may publish their own review of a book for sale on the site, and others may post comments on that review, or on previous comments, so creating a “thread” which may be read by any internet user worldwide. Since Prof. Hawking’s book was likely to attract far more interest among readers than C’s, he decided to raise the profile of his own work. In September 2010 he posted a purported review of the Hawking book, signed by “Scrooby”, which began by giving the details of his own book, and then went on to claim that this book “answered all doubts raised in [Hawking’s] book” and was an “antidote to this misguided book”. As the judgment continues Continue reading
Free speech is under attack. Or so it seems. The last few weeks have been abuzz with stories to do with free speech: a Supreme Court ruling on the Reynolds defence to libel; contempt of court proceedings against an MP for comments made in a book and the latest in a growing line of criminal trials for Twitter offences. The diversity of media at the heart of these stories – print news, traditional books and online ‘micro-blogging’ – indicates the difficulty of the task for the legal system.
Flood v Times: how does this affect calls for libel reform?
On 21 March, the Supreme Court affirmed the Times newspaper’s reliance on the Reynolds defence to libel – often referred to as Reynolds privilege or the responsible journalism defence – to a claim by a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police.