A lawsuit that goes too far

Suing people to shut them up doesn’t work in the age of the internet. Faster than you can say libel things will get mirrored and reprinted and will get more exposure by attempting to censor it than would have if you ignored it.

Now, that doesn’t mean libel doesn’t exist or have a place in our laws today, although I’m no expert in libel law, so I’ll leave it at that.

So we have Dr. Andrew Weaver, climate scientist from University of Victoria, who is suing the National Post and everything they have touched (up to and including the entire internet) for libel in a number of articles they published about him.

Well that’s fine to me. If you publish lies about someone, you can be held responsible. I’m more a responsible speech advocate than an all out free-for-all shouting match (which the National Post would win over you or me). When I mostly figure out my position on this I’ll get around to writing it up.

But what rubs me wrong, and is likely doomed to fail, is Dr. Weaver’s attempt to have the lawsuit extend to force the National Post to track down and remove the offending articles from not just its print and web editions but from any “other site where they have been re-posted.”

Dr. Weaver, you are providing fuel to the denialists who claim scientists like you are out to suppress them. While I may support your suit against the Post, I see the all out attack on the internet as fool-hearted and unintentionally malicious if it succeeds (based purely on the precedent it could set for any future libel suits).

4 thoughts on “A lawsuit that goes too far”

  1. Well, the alternative is that Weaver can just sue hundreds of people to make them issue corrections and pay damages. If it’s okay for Weaver to sue over this — I’m familiar with this case and, oh boy, it is — then it’s fine for him to sue everyone who republished. Demanding help from the originating perpetrator to merely get them found and removed is a reasonable alternative. Why should the effort to find them all be all his when it’s the for-profit National Post that published all this defamatory content?

    Will he get a backlash? Sure he will. Just suing has done that.

    And I don’t see any clear precedent here. Publishers have previously been compelled to hand over records of which bookstores a libelous book is stocked in for instance.

    Weaver already has a full-time job doing his work. Should he really have to have another one tracking down all the calumnies The National Post is alleged to have caused?

    In lieu of helping, The National Post could just pay higher damages. That’s really what’s going on there. It’s all negotiation.

    1. I just know that I’ve seen complaints filed against some users on YouTube, and when their account was blocked they simply had a bunch of friends re-post the video and it eventually overwhelmed. Similar things happen every time Scientologists try to block what’s said about them. I could easily see Blogging Tories virially spreading the articles of the NP farther and faster than they can be removed.

      The ease of spreading (mis)information on the internet is where the model breaks from bookstores.

      Larger damages might be worth it if only to dissuade future slander from being published (which is what the point of libel lawsuits is supposed to be for).

  2. I tend to vote in favour of the Internet, myself. Given that the Court finds in the plaintiff’s favour, why should it be up to a vindicated plaintiff to do all the legwork caused by The National Post’s error? I don’t think that requiring a guilty media company doing the legwork to contact the results of a Google query is all that onerous. That fact that people can re-post is not a reason to excuse The National Post of its responsibilities.

    In practice, vindicated plaintiff and guilty defendant would agree to some limits as cemented by the Court, and the guilty defendant would work to fulfill those requirements. Once fulfilled, The National Post would be released from further obligations.

  3. A few seconds of searching reveals that Roger D. McConchie (and David A. Potts) literally wrote the book on “Canadian Libel and Slander Actions”.

    http://www.irwinlaw.com/store/product/85/canadian-libel-and-slander-actions

    The National Post should take this quite seriously.

    “Climategate” turns out to have been much denier sound and fury, signifying nothing much beyond the email authors having been arrogant, tribal and not as transparent as they could have been.

    The fact that the stolen emails didn’t contain what deniers hoped for seems to have made little difference to then. Why stop a full fledged conspiracy fantasy just because of a few inconveniently missing facts?

    The level of personal attack on anyone who dares contradict the deniers pet theories is starting to resemble “truther” or “birther” levels of hysteria.

    There have been comments that holding publishers accountable for their content could chill freedom of expression on the internet.

    Libel and defamation are what they are, regardless of how they end up being published.

    There is nothing special about the internet in that regard, except that it can spread defamation wider and faster than previous forms of publication. We saw that come up in a Nanaimo court hearing in recent years.

    http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/Jdb-txt/SC/08/08/2008BCSC0827.htm

    Access to forms of Civil Remedy is needed to provide civil relief from individuals and enterprises or individuals who spread False News.

    Internet and Privacy expert Dr. Michael Geist has be auoted as saying that the False News Criminal Law provision also has a place, to deal with scofflaw defamers who feel they are judgment proof.

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