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Update Hell hath no fury like a company scorned. Scoot.com has won a court order forcing Interactive Investor International (III) to reveal the identities of anonymous critics who posted critical comments about the firm.

And when it finds out who its bulletin board critics are, it plans to sue them for libel.

III, the UK's biggest financial Web site, will hand over "certain confidential contact details, the names of the contributors' Internet Service Providers and IP numbers" to Scoot, Sunday Business reveals.

And what would those certain confidential contact details be - like their address, telephone number, credit card details etc.?

Let's hope the anonymous posters used free ISPs to make their posted their allegedly libellous comments about Scoot; the free ISPs give users a different IP address every time they log in, Sunday Business says.

However, dynamic assignation is of little defence - if posts were made recently, as some our readers write:

"Even if using an ISP which dynamically assigns IP addresses, the ISP will keep logs of who had which IP address assigned. This is used by ISPs to trace who has been abusing the system (spamming, ping floods, cracking etc)," the splendidly named Gossi The Dog points out.

Matt Sherman, of Canada, adds: "Whether those guys are safe depends not on whether they used an ISP that dynamically assigns IPs, but whether Scoot acted quickly enough and on how long the particular ISP keeps logs for."

Now that is interesting - if the ISP keeps the log files for, say, a month only, then the posters could get away Scot-free.

Scooter

Scoot.com, the world's most boring Internet company, is Britain's answer to Infospace. Think Yellow Pages, think referral fees, think online. Over the years, this Jam Tomorrow company has lost vast amounts of money, while figuring out how to turn its database into a profitable business.

In recent months there have a been a slew of leaks about the company, blamed by Scoot.com chief executive Robert Bonnier on "malicious employees", both past and present, Sunday Business reports. Former employees who signed gagging orders could be sued for breach of contract.

Leaks include an internal survey, which show Scoot advertisers were dissatisfied with the service. Also, last week, copies of emails purporting to be between Bonnier and Scoot.com managing director Jon Molyneux (Apple's former country manager for UK and Ireland), were winging their way around the City, Sunday Business says.

Some advice for Bulletin Board posters

  • This is a libellous comment: "Scoot sounds like a rotten place to work". It makes the right thinking person think less of the company after reading it. But is it actionable? I am expressing an opinion, a value judgement, which is not subject to the law.
  • This is another libellous comment: "Drew Cullen is a rotten apple". This is actionable - it is saying that I am corrupt. As a company director with a fiduciary duty of care to my shareholders, such a claim would materially impugn my reputation.
  • Truth is a cast-iron defence against libel actions. But is it not enough to be telling the truth - you have to be able to prove you are telling the truth. And that can be hard.
  • Think carefully before you make damaging statements about a person or company, especially if you are in possession of inside information. Would you make those statements if your name was published? If not, resist the temptation. The Internet creates the ultimate audit trail, and ISPs and Web sites will co-operate with investigators, if told to by the courts.
  • Finally, if you have a big story about a company to tell - consider contacting a news organisation, such as Sunday Business, or The Register, even. It may be harder to get your tale in print, but the risk will - 999 times out of 1000- be transferred entirely from you to the publication. The one time is when a company, or person, goes gunning for the source of the story. This has nothing to do with libel, and everything to do with revenge. ®

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