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INTERNET giant Google has lost a landmark legal battle that is expected to open the floodgates to online litigation against anonymous online commentators.

The Supreme Court in Australia ordered Google Australia to reveal details of the owner of a website which named an entrepreneur and self-help guru Jamie McIntyre a “thieving scumbag”, the Courier-Mail reported.

It is understood the website was not one of Google’s Blogs and that Google had obtained personal details of the owner of website through its advertising program.
Travis Burch, a private detective who was hired by Mr McIntyre to smoke out the website’s author so he could sue for defamation, said yesterday that it was “a good day for people who don’t frankly want to be defamed on the internet”. “We’ve done a lot of work in this area and identifying and pushing trying to expose people and tracking them down through records that they leave on the Internet,” Mr Burch said. “Having a win in courts just means we’re a couple of steps closer to bringing the person to a form of justice.” He added,“the content that appeared on that website and (has) been promoted through the website is blatantly defamatory.”
Australian Barrister John Bryson said he believed this was the first time legal action of this kind against Google had been successful in Australia. “People need to know that they can take on the big companies, the major players, and get a win,” Mr Bryson said.

Reported in the CourierMail.com, leading communications law academic Professor Michael Fraser of the University of Technology, Sydney, said “The internet is a mainstream channel of communication now so it can’t just be like the wild west outside of the rule of law.” He added, “people can’t … be allowed to hide behind a cloak of anonymity…”

In a statement which is encouraging to victims of online defamation around the world, including UK victims of online defamation, Google Inc confirmed that it will always comply with the laws of the jurisdiction they operate in and so if a court requires them to provide the information, they will.
UK leading Internet law expert Yair Cohen of the Internet Law Centre  said today that “although English courts are not obliged to bind themselves by decisions of Supreme Courts in other jurisdictions, decisions such as this could still be influential on our judges, who have very little local precedents available to them to help them come to the right decision in such cases of online defamation by individuals who choose to remain anonymous.

Tell us what you think!

If you post online what is considered by the subject of your comments to be a defamatory comment – would you be happy for your identity to be revealed?
Should Facebook, Google and other operators of social networking be completed to provide personal details of their users so that the court can decide whether or not your comments were defamatory?
Is it right or wrong to post anonymous online reviews about organisations and businesses?

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