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Web-Sites and Confidence

More developments on the liability of those running web-sites for the content. In Sir Elton John and others v Countess Joulebine et al (2001) QBD 26/1/2001 at LTL 20/2/2001 (Unreported elsewhere) .

In this case, the defendant faced an action for breach of confidence. She operated a web-site devoted in some part at least to celebrity gossip. She allowed visitors to post their own messages, and one person left a message which included private material which related to a court case running that time between the plaintiff and his accountants. In truth the material was derived from stolen and privileged documents. The defendant not only allowed the material to be placed on the web-site but also created a specific link to it, the better to facilitate visitors finding, and reading it.

The claimant sought summary relief. He had to show that she had no arguable defence, no prospect of success. The defendant counterclaimed to say she had lost the web-site as a result of the interim injunction obtained, and had incurred expense seeking advice from a US lawyer. He succeeded. She failed. The material was clearly confidential. The test which established her liability was whether she ought to have known that the material was indeed confidential, or was being imparted to her in breach of a duty of confidence. She was wrong both to leave it on the site, and even more so to create the link.

Her counterclaim was hopeless, and was dismissed summarily.

Where does this leave us? It shows that the law can be used by a determined claimant with a sufficiently deep back pocket, to enforce not just copyright but also the nascent power of the law of confidence.

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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 445 18 October 2013