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Web operators must disclose details of serious libel writers

by on 23 Oct, 2007

The high court will only force Web site owners to reveal the identities of anonymous contributors to blogs etc if the material is a serious libel. Material which is “barely defamatory, or little more than abusive or likely to be understood as jokes” does not warrant disclosure, the High Court ruled last week.

Contributors to Web sites using a pseudonym have a right to privacy, the Court has ruled. Their identity is also protected by the Data Protection Act.

The chairman and six directors of Sheffield Wednesday football club, along with the club itself, took an action against the owner and operator of owlstalk a Wednesday’s fan site.

They wanted the identities of people who had posted 14 items on owlstalk to be revealed by Hargreaves. Hargreaves asked the court to decide who should be revealed.

Owlstalk has T&Cs which say that no posts should be knowingly false and/or defamatory. Posts written by halfpint, DJ Mortimer, xdanielx, Ian, Auckland Owl, Foot 04, Southy, paulrs, and dansky are defamatory of the claimants, they argued.

The judge ruled that he would not order Hargreaves to reveal the identity of the authors of nine of the postings. To do so would be “disappropriate and unjustifiably intrusive, because the material was not sufficiently libellous”.

One posting was only defamatory “by devising a frankly implausable meaning”. Another was “barely if at all defamatory”. Another two were “plainly intended as jokes and unlikely to be taken seriously.”

Another four were “saloon bar moanings about the way in which the club is managed .” Some had “a smidgeon of personal abuse…most unlikely to be taken seriously.” The final one was “mildly abusive and is fairly plainly comment”.

But the identities of halfpint, Ian, Vaughan and DJ Mortimer must be disclosed. Some of their postings “may reasonably be understood to argue greed, selfishness, untrustworthiness and dishonest behaviour.”

The ones that got away

These are some of the postings which slipped through the net:

“Is this more evidence that Dave Allen is nothing more than a skinflint? Even the agents can’t get anything from him.”

“Whenever we are linked with signing anyone remotely good/expensive we just create paper talk for a few days then repeat numerous times until getting someone in on a loan.”

“The club’s best players are being given away, endless broken promises and the chairman with the most acute Napoleon complex allegedly that I’ve personally ever seen.”

“All this transfer rumour is just pathetic. We all know this is made to take some pressure off ‘u know who’ after the stupid comments he made.”

“…increased ticket prices, where the fook has this money gone (ohh BTW I saw Dave Allen getting measured up for a new suit the other day, he especially requested bigger pockets).”

“I still can’t believe the way the Brunt situation is being handled by the numpties at our club….If someone can come on here as explain why this is anything that crass incompetence, I’d like to hear it.”

It seems then that calling people numpties and skinflints is OK.

If you can’t as a fan call the directors, in addition, greedy, selfish, untrustworthy and dishonest what is the English football fan to do? Watch the foorball.

  1. Indeed, I agree. This is an opportunity for fans to express their personal opinions and interact with fellow supporters, via an independent portal, from the privacy of their own home. It reminds me of the recent debacle involving tiny musician Prince. It was reported that he was intending to sue a trio of fan-run sites for publishing unauthorised photos/images etc. The websites responded by forming a coalition against what they saw as an attempt to “stifle all critical commentary” and a “violation of the freedom of speech”. It seems a similar situation has arisen here.

  2. Does this mean that football fans everywhere will have to check for libel before they post their comments? Sure that’ll go down well at Millwall and West Ham.

  3. RichardWhy did you mispell football as foorball?RS

  4. What kind of a spoilsport are you Richard?It seems to me that over-sensitivity on behalf of the average UK football director is another example of the very recent and unwelcome embourgeoisement of the game.What next? CCTV footage of fans to isolate the origins of anti-board chants?Will we be obliged to start singing “Who’s the fair-minded individual in the black?” for fear of action from the refs?The Law Lords will be taking our pies away next.

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