High Court Forces Forum Owners To Accept Responsibility, Liability

A pair of cases in the High Court last week highlighted the increasing difficulty for forum owners who don’t want to be accountable for posts made by their members. The owner of Sheffield Wednesday fan message board Owlstalk was forced to reveal the names of three users who wrote disparaging comments about the football club’s management, The Guardian says. Lawyers for the club had originally asked for 11 names, but the judge deemed that most of the contributors were merely being “abusive” rather than libelous. Earlier in the week, the owner of a property management firm, Pallion Housing of Sunderland, admitted that he was responsible for a campaign-led message board on which anonymous users made disparaging remarks about a rival housing group, Gentoo, and its owner.

Court orders were instituted in 2001 to reveal the identities of people blogging defamatory remarks. But the cases can still end up in court if website owners contest the libel accusation and refuse to divulge the details, as the examples show. Dan Tench, a solicitor from Olswang, the firm representing Gentoo: “This case illustrates an increasingly important legal issue: proving who is responsible for the publication of anonymous material on the internet. This is likely to be a significant issue in defamation cases in the future.” In both cases, the plaintiffs can now bring libel charges against the named individuals.