Social (Media) Host Liability – BC Libel Lawsuit

20 Apr ’07

In one of the first cases of its kind in Canada, and what could be the first case to go the distance (based at least on the deep pockets of one defendant), Google, Wikipedia and are being sued in BC for libel based on user-generated content. Michael Pilling, the operator of Openpolitics, was involved in a panel discussion on internet libel I chaired last year for the benefit of Jon Newton, who was and still is the defendant in a similar case.

I haven’t seen the claim yet, but the Globe has some detail, though it’s little more than the usual heavy breathing by a plaintiff – in this case, “Wayne Crookes, a former campaign manager of the Green Party of Canada”. Mike has his usual fresh perspective: “Google, Wikipedia Sued By Politician Confused About How The Internet Works”:

The guy is quoted as saying: “I’m determined that the people who have acted so irresponsibly will find that there are consequences.” That’s nice… but if that’s the case, why isn’t he actually suing those responsible? He’s suing the tools providers. Does he sue the phone company if someone says something bad about him over the phone? There’s simply no reason to sue the tools providers instead of those actually responsible. The end result, of course, is that he’s only going to get a lot more attention drawn to the fact that a lot of people don’t think very highly of him and expressed that opinion in online forums. That hardly seems likely to improve his reputation.

I would assume that step 1 in the litigation for the plaintiff will be to try to get at the identities of the anonymous commenters who allegedly defamed the plaintiff. But in this day and age, it seems inevitable that the suit will broadcast the case to a much larger audience than would ever have otherwise been the case.

Update: I understand that Jon Newton has now been served in this case. See my next post for an explanation of a comment I originally edited and then deleted because of libel chill. Steve Janke weighs in as well.

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