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Bogus sex tapes: Court awards damages for Internet defamation

By Paul Wallis     Apr 9, 2009 in Internet
Internet defamation claims now have some case law to back them up. A U.S. court has ruled against nine defendants for publishing pornographic pics of a former Miss West Virginia, Allison Williams. The finding awarded her $7.2 million in total.
The court’s finding was based on very much traditional grounds for proof of defamation and damage to reputation. The standard basis for awards of damages is that some material injury has been done to the interests of the complainant. The awards were made on the basis of damage to reputation, and invasion of privacy.
The damaging tapes were alleged to show Ms. Williams having sex in the back of a TV news truck. She found the tapes herself, while looking on the net for positive news material for her scrapbook.
Ironically, Ms. Williams was studying law at the time she found those sites. She’s now made legal history. This is in no sense a toothless award of damages. It has implications across the internet.
Most of the offenders against whom damages were awarded were Australian. A court order in the US can make life very (meaning extremely) difficult for any foreigner trying to do business in the US. Assets can be seized, and anyway, there are reciprocal legal arrangements between Australia and the United States.
So the case has also taken in the most contentious of the internet defamation scenarios, the enforcement of defamation laws across jurisdictions. This would seem to indicate that in cases where the reciprocal laws apply, the findings will apply. It’s not a coverall, but it is a good 80% fit to most transnational legal treaties.
The floodgates haven’t yet been opened by this case, but the precedent covers a wide range of established legal practices, in regard to defamation. It has direct, irrefutable, and potentially deadly relevance to the paparazzi and a wide swathe of “celebrity media”.
The former beauty queen is also appealing the court’s decision to drop charges against 28 other parties in the case.
A recent article on DJ related to internet libel in the Courtney Love Twitter case. We were discussing whether it could work or not. I think we’ve now seen the answer.
The law hasn’t changed, it’s the medium which has convinced itself that the law doesn’t apply to it. There have never been any laws exempting the net from defamation suits.
More about Allison williams, Internet defamation, Damages