No more hiding behind pseudonyms in chat groups

In a recent High Court decision it was decided that a contributor to discussion groups should not be allowed to hide behind the cloak of anonymity when posting defamatory comments on a web site.

Motley Fool Ltd and Interactive Investor Ltd operated web sites which contained discussion boards acting as forums for various companies including Totalise plc, an ISP.

A contributor to these sites who went by the name of “Zeddust” began posting defamatory material about Totalise on the web sites. After complaints from Totalise, both Motley Fool and Interactive Investor removed the offending material but refused to disclose the identity of its author.

Totalise applied to the court for disclosure of Zeddust’s identity.

Mr Justice Robert Owen found in favour of Totalise and ordered Zeddust’s identity to be disclosed on the basis that it was necessary in the interests of justice given that the material was indeed defamatory. A prima facie case had been made out against Zeddust and Totalise was at risk of serious damage. Failure to disclose the identity of contributors to discussion groups would allow people to post defamatory statements on web sites with impunity.

This decision impacts on the privacy policies of web site operators to the extent that they may be forced to disclose the identities of their users in order to comply with applicable laws or valid legal process.

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