Feeds

Anonymity no protection for online libellers

Motley Fool ruling 'a timely reminder'

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Boost IT visibility and business value

The tenuous nature of online anonymity was underlined yesterday, thanks to the final ruling in the Motley Fool libel case.

Terry Smith, chief executive of city firm Collins Stewart Tullett, won undisclosed damages from Jeremy Benjamin, a fund manager. Benjamin had posted what he now accepts as false allegations on the Motley Fool forum, www.fool.co.uk under the pseudonym "analyser71".

In a statement made to The High Court the postings were describeds "serious allegations of criminal and dishonest financial wrongdoing by Mr Smith and the claimant companies [and] a grave slur on Mr Smith's personal and professional integrity", The Guardian reports.

As well as paying damages, described as "substantial", Benjamin will pay the legal costs of Smith's and his firm, estimated at three times the amount of the settlemnt

Benjamin was unmasked by a court order compelling Motley Fool to reveal the details it held on the poster known as "analyser71". The IP address associated with his postings was then traced back to a computer at his then employers, Kyte Fund Management.

Forty-nine other computers viewed the postings before they were removed by site administrators. Oliver Smith, a member of Terry Smith's legal team at Rosenblatt, told The Guardian:

"Forty nine may not seem to be a large number, but they could have been 49 influential people in financial services and they could have copied the messages and sent them to other influential people."

Motley Fool has issued a statement highlighting that its terms and conditions of use remind the site's registered users of their responsibilities under law, and stressed that using a nickname to post provided no protection from the law.

George Row, producer of the online community section of Motley Fool in the UK, said that the case was "a timely reminder to all of us that the law on defamation applies as much on the internet as it does elsewhere...In cases such as this - and in any case when someone makes a formal complaint - we pride ourselves on reacting quickly and in accordance with the terms and conditions of our website."

Mark Weston, technology law specialist at MAB Law, says the ruling was another link in the chain of judicial authority saying that you cannot be anonymous. He likened this element of the ruling to cases where ISPs have been forced to reveal the identity of filesharers to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

"It should make posters more careful. The supposed anonymity online is only temporary," he told us. "Just as in the offline world, as long as someone knows who you are, they can be forced to reveal your identity."

The Guardian's story is here. ®

Related stories

Amazon pays libel damages again over Northern Ireland book
ISPs welcome UK Net libel review
Friends Reunited user in libel payout
Online libel: the American Way
Dr bags $675k in Net libel case
Web anonymity affirmed by NJ judge
Web anonymity under siege
How 'cybersmear' lawsuits can block free speech
Scoot swoops on 'anonymous' bulletin board posters
Cybersmears - another great Net tradition falls by wayside
Demon coughs up damages in Godfrey libel case

Man sued for venting auto-service blues on BBS
FriendsReunited installs libel panic button

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
Microsoft: We're making ONE TRUE WINDOWS to rule us all
Enterprise, Windows still power firm's shaky money-maker
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.