online defamation cases 3
This page highlights online defamation cases and injurious
falsehood cases in Australia, the US, New Zealand, UK and
other jurisdictions from 2005 onwards.
It covers -
v Go Daddy (Australia, 2006)
v Williams (UK, 2006)
Moly and Parker (UK, 2006)
v Bock (US, 2006)
Vesikko (Finland, 2007)
Kaplan v Go Daddy & Ors (Australia, 2005)
A preceding page of this profile noted that emergence of
uniform defamation law in Australia appears to have encouraged
some corporate litigants to rely on the tort of injurious
falsehood in action against bloggers and other online publishers.
Adam Kaplan & Anor v Go Daddy Group Inc & 2
Ors  NSWSC
636 concerned an interlocutory injunction over a 'sucks'
site that featured pseudonymous criticisms of a car dealer.
The injunction - addressed to the site operator and domain
name registrar - sought to quickly take the site offline.
(An interlocutory injunction would have been less likely
in a defamation case.)
Consistent with injurious falsehood involving a higher barrier
than defamation under the Uniform Defamation Law, White
J noted that the plaintiffs were required to prove the three
elements of the tort -
that the second defendant has published statements which
are false, that the false statements concern the business
or property of the plaintiff, that they were published
maliciously, and that they are calculated in the ordinary
course of things to produce, and that they do produce,
actual damage. Such damage must have been wilfully and
intentionally caused by the defendant’s publication.
second defendant has an unresolved dispute with the second
plaintiff. In my view, he established the site for the
purpose of disparaging the second plaintiff, its business
and products. ... There is a strong prima facie case that
the website was established by the second defendant with
a malicious intent, and for the purpose of damaging the
second plaintiff's business. ...
There is a prima facie case that the second defendant
seeks to use the internet to publish anonymously false
and misleading disparagements of the plaintiff following
his dispute with it. The comments and headings on the
website are posted anonymously. The evidence was not clear
as to the extent to which the very establishment of the
website was done anonymously. The plaintiffs identified
the second defendant as the creator of the website by
I do not consider that the special rule which applies
in defamation cases in relation to matters of public interest
and concern, preclude the grant of an interlocutory injunction.
... a modified form of paragraph 3(a) should be made,
to restrain the defendant, not only from maintaining the
current domain, but from establishing or maintaining an
internet website of the same or similar name. I also consider
that the second defendant should be restrained from publishing
false statements of or concerning the second plaintiff
Smith v Williams (UK, 2006)
In 2006 Michael Keith Smith, a prominent member
of the UK Independence Party, won what the London Times
characterised as "an unprecedented £10,000 in
libel damages" from Tracy Williams over "an abusive
campaign against him on an internet bulletin board".
Smith brought High Court proceedings against Williams, who
had used a pseudonym to post claims on a Yahoo! discussion
board that he was a "nonce", sexual offender,
racist bigot, a Nazi and had sexually harassed a female
colleague. In 2004 he obtained a court order requiring Yahoo!
to disclose his assailant's identity, inspiring what the
Judge Macduff labelled as "frenzied abuse" continuing
into 2005. Macduff criticised Williams for a contemptuous
response to a request for an apology.
In assessing damages the Court commented that although the
defamation was available throughout the world, it was likely
that it had been read by few people and that many would
have dismissed the posts as "ramblings". However,
Smith was awarded £5,000 general damages plus £5,000
aggravated damages to reflect Williams' response. Smith
received an injunction preventing the publication of the
same or similar libels. Williams was ordered to pay the
costs, upwards of £7,200.
The Times commented that was the first time that
the High Court has awarded damages for defamatory comments
on an internet bulletin board, although a retired teacher
won £1,250 damages in 2002 for comments by a former
pupil on the Friends Reunited site.
Mancini (Italy, 2006)
Italian journalist Roberto Mancini was ordered by a Val
d'Aosta court to pay US$16,900 in fines and damages for
statements in his Il Bolscevico Stanco [The Weary
Bolshevik] blog, which is hosted in the US.
The judge said that the information published by Mancini
was partly true but was not reported appropriately, and
condemned the "vulgar tone" - "Mancini expresses
himself in a manner best suited to a brothel".
The conviction has been hyped as
ripples of alarm through the global blogging community,
raising fears over future censorship of blogsites in Italy
and other countries.
sans Frontières commented
that it appears Mancini "is being punished for his
bad language and not because he posted false information,
which is unacceptable" and that he was also being held
responsible for comments posted by readers, "a decision
which goes against European legal jurisprudence".
Holy Moly and Parker (UK, 2006)
UK gossip site Holy Moly apologised and paid "substantial"
damages to soap opera star Chris Parker over claims on that
site and in a weekly subscribers' email.
In an apology disseminated via email Holy Moly explained
"We royally [effed] up and are deeply sorry for the
upset and damage we've caused Chris". Its litany of
retractions included -
We also reckoned his career was heading down the dumper.
Nothing could be further from the truth ...
We also now understand that Chris has never even been
to a sauna in the USA, and it was untrue of us to allege
that he misled his family, friends and industry bosses
You may have also got the impression that Chris engaged
in homosexual fetishist role play activities ... This
has turned out to be complete and utter nonsense and we
should never have printed it ...
Holy Moly would like to say a massive SORRY to Chris and
promise we will never again say such things. We have paid
Chris damages and are currently selling children, shoes
and CDs in order to make sure his lawyers get paid.
Scheff v Bock (US, 2006)
In October 2006 a Florida jury awarded Sue Scheff US$11.3
million costs and damages over recurrent bulletin board
accusations by former acquaintance Carey Bock that she was
variously a crook, a con artist and a fraudster.
Bock failed to defend herself in court, telling USA
Today that she had no money to pay the damages and
had been silenced: "I don't feel like I can express
my opinions". Observers, such as this site, commented
that there is no wholly unfettered right of expression:
people for example are not free to shout 'fire' in a crowded
theatre or falsely claim that a neighbour is a paedophile
Vesikko (Finland, 2007)
In 2007 Finnish student Toni Vesikko was found guilty by
Nurmes District Court of intentional defamation after he
posted an unauthorised video of his teacher on YouTube,
claiming that she was mad.
15 year old Vesikko was fined US €90, with damages
of €800 for "causing harm and suffering"
and €2,200 court costs. He had made an unauthorised
video of his teacher singing karaoke at a school party and
then posted it on YouTube as Karaoke of the mental hospital,
claiming that the teacher was a lunatic. The court said
Vesikko's actions "falsified facts" about her
mental state and the institution. Those actions had caused
her to suffer anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Dadsplace and Gentoo (UK, 2007)
UK courts have increasingly demonstrated a willingness to
strip anonymity from the authors of defamatory posts in
online fora. One example involved family law site Dadsplace,
with posts being made about housing organisation Gentoo
Sunderland, its employees and owner. Gentoo's lawyers ran
up a bill estimated at £300,000 before the proprietor
of a Gentoo competitor admitted involvement, immediately
prior to cross-examination. The defendants were required
to pick up those costs, along with damages of £100,000
awarded to Gentoo's chief executive Peter Walls and £10,000
to the organisation.
The same week saw the High Court remove anonymity from the
authors of arguably defamatory (rather than merely abusive)
posts on the owlstalk.co.uk site regarding managers of the
Sheffield Wednesday football club. The judge commented that
the right to maintain their anonymity and express themselves
freely was outweighed by the targets' entitlement to take
action to protect their reputation in relation to allegations
of "untrustworthiness and dishonest behaviour".
The Club's solicitors said:
seem to be quite a lot of websites that are using their
anonymity to make comments about people and think that
there shouldn't be any liability for it. But the internet
is no different to any other place of publication, and
if somebody is making defamatory comments about people
then they should be held responsible for it. What these
cases do is just confirm that's the law - the law applies
to the internet as much as it does to anything else.
In 2007 Ottawa anti-racism campaigner Richard Warman won
a C$30,000 judgment against white-supremacist Paul Fromm
for nine defamatory internet postings he characterised as
"an oil spill on my reputation. From had made the postings
on the Freedomsite.org site, using a server located in the
US, and on the supremacist Canadian Heritage Alliance site
Fromm was ordered to post full retractions on all the websites
within 10 days.
Judge Métivier commented that Fromm's dominant motive
was to attack Warman personally in retaliation for his use
of legal processes to restrain hate
speech and that he published the statements "either
knowing the fundamental falseness of the accusations he
levelled at Mr. Warman, or being reckless as to the truth
of these". "Given the instant and possibly global
dissemination of messages over the Internet, the damage
may continue for years."
During the following year British Columbia Supreme Court
Justice Halfyard ordered Patrick Michael Sullivan of that
province to pay an Australian man over C$179,000 in damages
arising from hundreds of libelous statements he made on
numerous websites over a four-year period.
The court found
that Sullivan defamed Robert Griffin, a resident of Sydney
(NSW), in postings from May 2003 up until the trial in in
April 2008. The judge ruled that Sullivan maliciously made
numerous false allegations that Griffin was a killer, stalker,
coward, sexual predator, deviate and hate-monger who threatens
people with death and violence. Griffin said that the postings
crushed him emotionally and physically, ruined his relationship
with his girlfriend and made him fearful of going out in
Sullivan was ordered to pay C$150,000 in general and aggravated
damages for libel, C$25,000 for breach of privacy and C$4,600
in special damages. The court imposed an injunction to prevent
Sullivan from posting further defamatory messages. Sullivan
is also restrained from contacting or communicating with
the plaintiff "directly or indirectly in any way or
by any method".
UK businessman Mathew Firsht was awarded £22,000 damages
in the High Court in London during 2008 over libelous entries
on Facebook. Firsht
accused a former friend of creating a false personal profile
and a company profile called "Has Mathew Firsht lied
The defendant unsuccessfully claimed that "strangers"
attending an impromptu party at his address day sneaked
off to a spare bedroom and created the profiles on his PC.The
profiles featured information regarding Firsht's whereabouts,
activities, birthday, relationships and supposed sexual
orientation and political views. They also falsely claimed
that he owed substantial sums which he had repeatedly avoided
paying by lying.
The judge said that Firsht as a very private person was
extremely upset by the gross invasion of his privacy and
the defamatory material, an injury made worse by his being
compelled to endure an expensive and time-consuming court
process to achieve vindication. Firshst would have accepted
an apology if the defendant had offered one at an early
stage, thus avoiding the distress and expense of litigation.