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Totalise v Motley Fool
Chat Rppm Pseudonym no protection
The case of Totalise plc v Motley Fool Ltd and another heard in the High Court on February 19 2001, pins another nail in the fiction that the Internet is a place outside regulation. An organisation providing chat room facilities was ordered to disclose the identity, or such facts as it knew about the identity, of a visitor to the chat room who had made libellous comments behind the apparent protection of a pseudonym.
The case itself says nothing about the truth or otherwise of what was said, only that the use of a pseudonym should not be allowed to act as a means of escaping responsibility. The company operated the web-site, and allowed users to register a pseudonym, with further details, and to allow registered users to post to the chat room. The details are not clear, but it seems that the company may have had difficulties before with the user. It is possible therefore that they would have had some responsibility themselves in defamation. Nevertheless, they took the respnsible position of awaiting the court's order before disclosing the details, such as they may have had.
The decision will be no surprise to lawyers, but may seem unwelcome to web-site operators. The situation is relatively simple. A company operating a chat room can be just as liable for defamation posted within the chat room as if it was posted in a mor epermanent form. The chat room system seems to be like ordinary talk. It seems impermament, as words scroll off the screen into an electronic neverland, but the small degree of permanence is sufficient (or should be assumed to be) to turn the words issued from slander into libel. For a defendant his argument is rather as to the extent of the damages caused. It is likely that only a very few persons will read the contents of a chat room conversation.
The Motley Fool company seem to have got it about right. They did not accept anonymous postings to the site, and did not disclose details out of hand when asked. Just how the applicant company saw matters may be unclear.
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