Online Defamation & libel Harassment. What’s your rights?

    Originally Posted June 01, 2014

    Online Defamation & libel Harassment. What’s your rights?

     

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    On the Internet, where abnormal behavior is the status quo, tempers

    Can flare in the heat of debate and word wars can last for days, weeks, or even months.  It is not uncommon for users to ridicule, harass or insult

    Those who disagree with them or just people them do not like.

    But if you damage someone’s reputation by trying to embarrass them in

    a public forum, blog, or social site you could be sued for libel or defamation.  After all,

    There is no reason to assume that the messages you send through

    Cyberspace is immune from lawsuits.

    “The Internet culture right now is for users to refute speech with

    Speech,” says Dave Marburger, the attorney who represented Brock Meeks

    In one of the first defamation lawsuits in the United States involving The Internet.  “But as the Internet culture gets more diverse, users will start refuting speech with lawsuits.”

    It is becoming more popular for users to file libel and defamation lawsuits, and as time goes on, the number of lawsuits will probably increase. In that case,

    It is worth your time to learn what is libelous or defamatory on the Internet and what is not.

    Other users have the right to sue you for defamation if they can prove you damaged their reputation or good name with false information.  You can be sued for libel if another user can prove you have distributed defamatory statements about them in a public area — such as a news group, mailing list, website, blog or social site.

    In April of 1993 Gil Hardwick, an anthropologist in Australia, was ordered by the Australian Supreme Court to pay David Rindos $40,000 in damages because he defamed Rindos on an international mailing list.

    After Rindos lost his job at the University of West Australia, Hardwick posted a message on an international discussion group that suggested Rindos was fired because he was a bully and had sexually molested a local boy.

    Rindos filed a defamation lawsuit against Hardwick because he felt the message had hurt his chances of finding a new job.  In a letter to Rindos’s attorney, Hardwick wrote “Let this matter be expedited and done with….I can do nothing to prevent it, lacking any resources whatsoever to defend myself.”  Like most people, Hardwick did not have the money to hire a lawyer or finance an expensive legal battle.

    “He (Rindos) suffered a great deal of personal hurt because of the message,” said Supreme Court Justice David Ipp in the West Australian.” The damages award must compensate him and vindicate his reputation to the public.”

    The Internet is an informal forum and people often write personal things about other users, but you can be held accountable in court for making libelous or defamatory remarks in public just as Hardwick was.

    “We know that as the Internet grows, there will be more and more lawsuits involving libel and defamation,” says attorney David H. Donaldson, editor of Legal Bytes, and an electronic magazine that discusses legal issues involving computers and networking.   “The only question is if the number of cases will grow steadily or if there will be an explosion of lawsuits all at once.”

    Anybody can sue you for libel or defamation if they think you damaged their reputation, but if you can prove what you say is true, chances are that you won’t end up in court.

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    “Make it clear when you are stating your opinion,” says Donaldson, “Always state the facts that your opinions are based on just to be safe. You probably will not lose a libel or defamation lawsuit if you can back up what you write with solid facts.”

    For example, Brock Meeks, a full-time journalist who also distributes his own electronic magazine, avoided losing a defamation lawsuit largely because he could prove an article that he sent over the Net was true.

    Suarez Corporation Industries sued Meeks in April of 1994 for writing an investigative story about the company and its services in his electronic newsletter — the CyberWire Dispatch.  Meeks had no libel insurance, no publishing company backing him up and many legal fees to cover.  (His lawyer charged him $200 an hour.)  The only thing

    Meeks had was his house — and he didn’t want to sell it to pay off a lawsuit.

    Meeks defended his article in numerous posts on the Net, “All of my facts were rock solid.  Although the article was delivered with a fair amount of attitude, I don’t believe that I’m in dangerous waters,” he wrote.

    Benjamin Suarez, owner of Suarez Corp., filed the suit because he felt that Meeks had damaged his reputation and hurt his business by saying he was “infamous for his questionable direct marketing scams,” and saying “he (Suarez) has a mean streak.”  To back up his opinion, Meeks cited an accusation made by the Washington state attorney general’s office concerning Suarez’s direct marketing practices.

    In August of 1994, Suarez Corp. made Meeks an offer he could not refuse.  They agreed to settle the case for $64 — to cover administrative court costs.  The company refused to comment on why they agreed to settle the lawsuit.

    If the case had gone to trial, Meeks’s lawyer thinks Meeks would have been able to win anyway.  “The defendants in libel or defamation suits involving the Internet have enhanced First Amendment rights,” says Marburger.  “The plaintiff has to prove actual malice.  In other words, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant made false statements or was negligent.”  Marburger’s only regret is that they did not get to set that precedent in court.

    Although the Meeks case doesn’t really mean anything in the law books, it does show that if you’re responsible and can prove what you write on the Net is true, people will be less likely to take you to court.  If you just make something up and your sources are not reliable, you could lose big as Hardwick did.

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    “You have to follow the same rules that journalists do if you’re going to write and distribute controversial material about other people,” says Donaldson.

    The increasingly common phenomenon of online forums, blogs and social sites  creates the possibility for you to reach large audiences, but it also creates the ability for you to commit defamation or libel — something that an ordinary citizen didn’t have to worry about in the past.  Before the growth of online communication, people who did not work in the media usually didn’t have to worry about libel or defamation. “Libel laws apply

    to the Internet the same way they do to newspapers and TV stations,” explains former Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson, a professor at the Iowa University school of law. “The same technology that gives you the power to share your opinion with thousands of people also qualifies you to be a defendant in a lawsuit.”

    Like a newspaper or TV station, you are responsible for making sure the material you distribute — or broadcast — over the Internet is not libelous or defamatory.  Lani Teshia-Miller never meant to defame anyone, but when she took over the distribution of a tattoo FAQ, she almost ended up in court.  The rec.arts.bodyart FAQ she inherited contained many generalizations based on contributions from unattributed sources.  Although she listed her name on the FAQ, she did not edit out several defamatory statements.  One review of a San Francisco tattoo artist in the FAQ said, “He’s getting old and having problems with his eyesight.  His quality is really bad and he hurts people.”

    After the artist hired a lawyer and threatened to sue, Teshia- Miller changed the FAQ’s wording to reflect a more factually based and less-hysterical view.   The review now says, “His eyesight is not what it used to be.”

    After the FAQ was changed and Teshia-Miller apologized, the artist dropped the lawsuit.  “It turned out to be a good experience for me,” said Teshia- Miller.  “I’m a lot more careful about what I allow on the artist list, and I now have a very long disclaimer at the beginning of the FAQ.”

    Not every person you write something negative about will sue you for defamation or libel, they might flame you or just try to set the record straight by replying to the message.  But if you post false information about another user and disgrace them in public, they have the right to take you to court — and they could win a big settlement if they can prove you were negligent.

    Medphone, a Fortune 500 company that manufactures medical instruments, has filed a $200 million lawsuit against Prodigy user Peter DeNigis.  Medphone filed a “systematic program for defamation and trade disparagement” lawsuit against DeNigis after a stockholder reported that he was making several negative posts about Medphone a day on Prodigy’s Money Talk Forum. DeNigis, a former Medphone stockholder, lost more than $9,000 last year by selling off his investment in the company. In one post DeNigis wrote, “My research indicated the company is really having a difficult time.  No case, no sales, no profits and terrible management. This company appears to be a fraud.  Probably will cease operations soon.”

    Although the accusation that Medphone is a “fraud” is very serious –and potentially defamatory — DeNigis might be able to win the lawsuit if he can prove what he wrote is true in court.

    “The Medphone case is a clear indication that libel and defamation is something for Internet users to think about,” says Johnson.

    All internet users are indeed responsible for making sure the information they distribute cannot be found libelous or defamatory.

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    The Internet has made world wide, instantaneous communication easy.

    The average user now has the power to be heard by hundreds or even thousands of other users, but in terms of libel and defamation, the Net is not a new world of freedom. The reality is that libel and defamation laws are enforceable in the virtual world just as they are in the real world.

    If you write libel or defamation post about someone and that person happens to sue you, just know you will lose. That is how the law works. Make sure whatever you put out there is 100% accurate; no one wants to go bankrupt over a libelous comment because they “thought” there statement was true.

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

    So You have been defamed & harassed, How can you sue someone online you don’t know?

    Sue “John/Jane Doe”other wise known as fictitious defendant : It only takes about three seconds of legal analysis to recognize that it is impossible to serve a subpoena on a person you can’t identify, but it may take quite a bit longer for you to realize you can sue them.  Fictitious defendants is the term used when a party suing (plaintiff) is not sure if he/she knows if there are unknown persons involved in the incident or the business being sued, there are named fictitious persons, usually designated Doe I, Doe II, and so forth, or “Green and Red Company,” with an allegation in the complaint that if and when the true names are discovered they will be inserted in the complaint by amendment.

    Naming fictitious defendants stops the statute of limitations (the time in which a party has to file a lawsuit) from running out even though the true name is not yet known. Sometimes during the investigation or discovery (taking depositions or asking written questions under oath) new information about a potential defendant is found and the real name substituted. Then that person is served with a summons and complaint.

    While traditionally these lawsuits have been discouraged by the courts, the ease with which anyone with an Internet connection can anonymize themselves and create a path of fraud, libel and destruction has necessitated the courts’ relaxation and allowance of “John Doe” actions. Given that some people post tortuous statements both on their own Web sites and Web sites owned and operated by others protected by 230(c), the IP address of the originated tortuous activity must be identifiable as a foundational and evidentiary matter.

    Once the lawsuit is filed, service needs to occur. The only way to identify and serve an unknown party is through additional investigation of the owner of certain websites, email addresses, IP Addresses and other information that you may have available to you.

    Identify The Owner Of  A Web Site, Email, IP Address, Etc: Every person who gains access to the Internet or has a web address is assigned an IP Address. Even when using your email, you must go through an assigned IP Address that identifies a connection. The IP Address is tied to an ISP or a Host. As stated, this includes activity on web addresses/Web sites and e-mails. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) requires that every web address be owned and tied to a name, address, and e-mail. The owner of any web address can allow a “proxy” to be listed in their stead, maintaining the owner’s anonymity.

    The name, address, and e-mail of the proxy must be public information listed with ICANN for service of process and billing. Thus, by researching ICANN, one can find the proxy/owner of any web address where tortious activity may be occuring. However, since the proxy is created for the exclusive purpose of masking the identity of the true owner, the proxy will generally not provide the identity of the IP Address owner without a Court Order, some will respond to a simple subpoena.

     Identifying The Owner Of A Statement On A Website Or From An Email: The retention of an expert who has the ability to forensically track IP Addresses tied to websites or emails will be required in identifying the owner of a given statement. A forensic Internet expert will be able to gather valuable information that ties certain web addresses, e-mails, or other identifying information to other statements. Though not simple, once the relevant technical information is gathered that connects the IP Address to the torturous activity and a profile is created around the IP Address, connecting it to the tortuous activity, one has the support for the “John Doe” lawsuit. In other words, you may not have a name, but you have an IP Address and there is an ISP out there that has an actual name and contact information.

    Always stay calm: The last thing you want to do is mess up your case by defaming back or reverse harassment. You can defend yourself as long as you do it in a matter where you are not just as harassing as the person you want to sue. Cyber harassment laws are strengthening every day across the US. You do have rights! R.I.S.E. & STAND is here to advise you on what route to take and support you through it.

     

    Other good reads on how to handle online defamation cases:

    http://www.mlg.com/pdf_120720_tabibi.pdf

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_jurisdiction_in_Internet_cases_in_the_

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