Thursday, June 30, 2011


It's been an interesting time; as mentioned Tav over at the WFA has been warned about libellous comments on his site; Johann Hari from The Independent has been 'caught' lifting live quotes from written works and Angry Mob has had to remove a story regarding Paul Dacre.

As I've already mentioned the Catch-22 for Tav I'll turn to Hari. The word plagiarism has cropped up; that is claiming someone else's work as your own; is that fair? Hari has supposed lifted written quotes from people and placed them in the context of a live interview complete with body language descriptions etc. His claim is that he has done so only when the verbal conversation was less straightforward than a corresponding written statement. This would be vaguely acceptable if said quotes were lifted from other times he'd interviewed them; except allegedly they're not they're from other people's work. That would be using other people's work and claiming it as your own...

Has he been misleading his readers though? Well no. He hasn't claimed to have held interviews with people he hasn't; he hasn't written about subjects that didn't occur in the interview; and, most tellingly of all, none of the people he's interviewed have charged him with misrepresentation. If they don't care why should we? Well we might not, but the people whose work he's supposedly copied might have a thing or two to say about the matter.

Angry Mob's situation is also interesting as he hasn't directly been asked to remove material regarding Paul Dacre, instead said instructions have been relayed to him via his webhost. As such this falls into the same category I outlined for Tav. Strictly speaking the webhosts are 'couriers' and therefore can't be held accountable for what is published via themselves. However at the same time they will have little interest in defending, possibly in court, one of their clients and so will place pressure on them to cave in. If the webhost removes the 'offending' item they are taking an active role; if they put pressure on the publisher to do so or threaten them with termination of their hosting they show that they'll back down in the face of any threat no matter how ludicrous. If they do nothing they may have to defend their position in court which will cost time and money.

As it stands the ball is firmly in the court of the lawyers - don't like something published on the internet; threaten the hosts rather than the person who published it and chances are you'll get it taken down.

Are there any methods around this? Host your own site, all that can happen then is the ISP disconnects you and you reconnect with any of the multitude offering the same service. Or host your site with a foreign company; such rulings in English courts have zero standing outside our borders and any attempts to sue will have to be laid at the English publisher (as it should be) rather than the foreign host.


Don B said...

It's an interesting position. Tav and I both received letters from the WFDC solicitor if we didn't remove a ststement I wrote on WFA over Tesco coming to Stourport. What I wrote has never been denied and I was accused of libeling either the coucillors or the officers but as I hadn't mentioned any names I decided to brazen it out. Indeed I had no idea who was involved. Result - nothing happened!

A few weeks later a similar situation arose with Nigel Gilbert. He too received a an almost identical letter from the WFDC solicitor over something he had written on another website. He was much more anxious about it than I was but I advised him to stick to his guns.

We live in a very grey and murky area at times with the new digital age where solicitors can write strong letters over dubious matters which can be very frightening for many people.

FlipC said...

The majority of people in this country have very little to do with the courts so as you say it can be very frightening, particular in such cases where you genuinely can't be certain if you've done what they've accused you of.

I find it interesting that you say it was a WFDC solictor who contacted you. Libel is a civil matter and therefore concerns the offender and the offendee.

Unless you've been saying nasty things about the WFDC themselves it's got nothing to do with them; unless they, as an organisation, choose to support their staff.
Which would be at our expense I might add.

For the most part I think they rely on the other side backing down first and on not understanding the law. In your case the question to ask of the solicitor (if not already stated) would be
1) Who are you accusing me of libelling?
2) Where are you accusing me of libelling them?
3) What are you accusing me of libelling them with?

If they can't answer those three they have no case.