Libel and legal harassment cases across blogs


8:27 am - July 28th 2008

by Sunny Hundal    


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Well, it’s certainly been a while since libel suits were being waved around, whether by Uzbek billionaires or pompous bloggers.

And now a whole bunch have come along at once. So here is an update on what’s been going on in the blogosphere.

Apologies for the lateness on some of these.

1) Dave Walker. Matt Wardman has been covering this fairly extensively. The introductory guide says:

Dave Walker is a cartoonist who runs a popular website, which includes the blogs We Blog Cartoons, Cartoon Church and The Cartoon Blog.

On the morning of July 22nd 2008 he received a cease and desist letter threatening legal action unless he removed 75 posts from his Cartoon Church blog by lunchtime – i.e., half a day’s notice.

These 75 posts had reported the developing situation over a 2 year period in a UK book chain called SPCK, which had been taken over by a company run by Mark Brewer. Dave Walker’s was the main published source reporting the situation, asking questions about the management of the chain, and highlighting the treatment of the employees.

See the introduction to the case. Matt is also maintaining a list of bloggers writing in support. Do consider joining them.

2) Craig Murray The former Ukranian ambassador was the source of the last controversy, when Alisher Usmanov tried to take down his website for posting allegedly libellous comments.

Now, the same legal firm – Schillings (boo! hiss!) – is trying to prevent him from publishing his book.

Now they [Schilings] are attempting to block the publication of my new book in the interests of mercenary commander Tim Spicer, one of those who has made a fortune from the Iraq War. It is sad but perhaps predictable that private profits from the illegal Iraq war, in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died, are providing the funding to try to silence my book.

Libel law in the UK is a remarkable thing – Schillings can go for an injunction when I haven’t published anything about Spicer yet and they haven’t seen what I intend to publish. People might conclude that Spicer has something to hide. You will see that they also are attempting to censor not only the book, but what I say at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 12 August. I can assure you that they will find it impossible to affect what I say about Spicer at that event.

Tim Spicer is no stranger to using libel laws to silence criticism. Support Craig Murray!

3) Media Lens The website Media Lens is being threatened by News International for publishing the email address of a journalist! Peter Wilby covered this recently in the Media Guardian:

The spat with the Times began on June 17, with a “world briefing” on Iran by its chief foreign commentator, Bronwen Maddox. Though her column indicated no support for military action, she argued it was “the right point to toughen sanctions” on Iran. She did not question the assumption that Iran is bent on producing a nuclear bomb.

Edwards emailed Maddox the same day asking why she hadn’t mentioned last November’s US National Intelligence Estimate report which stated “with high confidence” that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. She replied, quickly and courteously, pointing out that the report’s authors later admitted they should have phrased it differently because they failed to emphasise “the rapid progress of uranium enrichment”. She concluded: “I write a daily, short running commentary on current news, I didn’t mention the NIE directly as it is too out of date.”

Edwards replied in his turn, before reproducing the exchange on Media Lens along with Maddox’s email address. The same posting also criticised the BBC and the Guardian. A few days later, Alastair Brett, TNL’s legal manager, wrote to Edwards stating that Maddox’s email to him, as her copyright, must be removed from the website. (Media Lens has now done this.) More seriously, Brett said, Maddox had received “vexatious and threatening emails from visitors to Media Lens”. If this “harassment” did not stop, Brett would ask the police to investigate and he would “give serious thought” to a high court injunction “to stop you and your correspondents contacting Ms Maddox”.

One can only wonder why The Times wants to legally harass a website merely for publishing the email address. Support Media Lens.

4) Harry’s Place Harry’s Place blog was recently legally threatened by Mohammed Sawalha, President of the British Muslim Initiative, and associated with British sympathisers of the terrorist group Hamas. Harry’s Place responded with their own legal representation, and its unlikely that this stupid attempt to use libel law will get anywhere.

Do feel free to blog about all or any of these cases on your own blogs. Spread the word!

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Media

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Reader comments


1. Laurie Penny

Is there scope, do you think, for clever lawyers arguing that blogs are comment platforms? If so an easy defence to all of these would be Fair Comment, which is only defeatable by provable malice under the Defamation Act 1996.

Just a thought.

What is a “Comment Platform” in legal terms?

Thanks for the coverage Sunny!

I’m counting this article as “support”.

With both the UK and the US extending their laws beyond their borders, this is something we should all be aware of.

4. douglas clark

Should we be setting up a legal defense fund? I think blogs are too important to be silenced by legal threats.

Any comments?

I can write long rambling letters of pseudo-legal claptrap, if anyone’s interested.

I have no legal expertise, but I do know some big words.

I charge by the hour.

Should we be setting up a legal defense fund? I think blogs are too important to be silenced by legal threats.

Any comments?

Great idea on one level although I’m not sure who will manage it or if it’s something that’d actually raise any cash outside the blogosphere:

man down the pub: “you want my money for what??”

us: “to create a fund to protect bloggers from litigation”

man down the pub: “wtf is a blogger?!?”

….

I’m not sure there is such a legal entity as a Comment Platform, and if “fair comment” was such an easy defence there wouldn’t be the libel cases referred to by Sunny.

I don’t see the legal defense fund happening, and its a bit arbitary anyway.

In some cases you can argue that blogging is merely “fair comment” and get away with that. The opposition would argue that (a) the blogger in question was spreading false, malicious rumours and / or (b) say that the commentary went beyond fairness and was designed merely to libel the person and destroy their reputation.

Either way, if you want to argue fair comment you have to be fairly certain it was “fair” and not some off-the-chain rant.

9. douglas clark

Point taken Leon. Though it is worth noting that in the US, groups such as comics, manage to protect themselves. Dunno how many of them go to the pub.

http://www.cbldf.org/

I just find cease and desist orders from lawyers incredibly irritating. It is a clear misuse of the law. It is, in essence, lawyers, employed by rich folk, determining your society for you. And using the threat of legal action as a lever to actually avoid these sorts of issues from ever being determined by a court of law. For none of us are rich enough to fight back, I’d assume.

Contrary to what Sunny says at 9, I’d have thought a legal defense fund would only be arbitrary in the same way as the ACLU is arbitrary. If you’ve a reasonable chance of winning, you take it on. Otherwise, you don’t.


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