Damages on online defamatory statements in UK
Michael Keith Smith, a former parliamentary candidate for the UK Independence Party has received £10,000 in damages in a defamation case occurred on the internet
Smith was a participant in a discussion on the Iraq war held on a discussion board run by Yahoo!. Tracy Williams, another participant in the discussion, posted under pseudonym series of defamatory remarks about Smith on an internet bulletin board calling him a "lard brain" a "Nazi", a "racist bigot" and a "nonce". She also alleged that he had sexually harassed a female co-worker.
Although Smith had obtained court orders in June 2004 that allowed him to identify the person behind the remarks, Williams continued the defamatory campaign in 2005. Smith sued her and Judge Alistair MacDuff considered the remarks clearly defamatory and awarded Smith £10,000 damages - £5,000 general damages plus £5,000 aggravated damages to reflect Ms Williams' behaviour. He issued an injunction prohibiting Williams from repeating the remarks and ordered her to pay £7,200 costs involved in the legal action. Ms Williams did not defend the action.
"I'm happy with the judge's ruling but firms hosting online chat rooms should be prepared to get involved and step in to moderate defamatory statements," Smith told The Guardian.
Legal experts say the case, the first of this kind, should be taken as a warning that the lows of libel apply to chat rooms, message boards and personal blogs just as they apply to comments published in a newsletter.
On the other hand, Mark Stephens, head of media law at Finer Stephens Innocent, said the case should lead to a larger discussion on whether such cases should reach the court. A chat room is self-moderating and has a limited circulation. Most such cases are solved much easier as the complaints are addressed to an ISP or site owner, which would take down the defamatory content as soon as it was notified.
UKIP candidate wins £10,000 for internet libel (21.03.2006)
£10,000 damages awarded for internet libel (23.03.2006)
Warning to chatroom users after libel award for man labelled a Nazi