*Kelly / Warner was one of the U.S. firms that helped win the International Internet defamation case discussed in this post. A pioneer in Internet governance law, Kelly / Warner partners with overseas legal practices to resolve cross-border libel, harassment and unfair competition cases. If you’d like to speak with Kelly / Warner about a domestic or transnational Internet law issue, please contact us.*
A web developer may spend some time in jail over a $300 invoice.
“But how could that be!?,” you protest.
When someone opts to criminally harass a former client, instead of legally handling an invoice disagreement, they sometimes find themselves behind bars.
Web Developer Created Harassing Websites About Former Client
Web developers and clients often clash over expectations and invoice amounts. When serious conflicts arise, professionals typically seek the assistance of an attorney with Internet governance and arbitration experience.
But some web developers choose a more dastardly path: they create disparaging –often harassing – websites about former clients.
Paul Britton, of Origin Design, falls into the latter group. Because of a £200 (~$300) invoice dispute, Britton created several websites with the express purpose of humiliating his former client, and falsely labeled his foe a pedophile.
U.K.-based Britton thought using false credentials and U.S. companies to register and pay for the domains would sufficiently mask his identity.
But Britton didn’t do his Internet law homework.
If he had, Britton would’ve known that it’s possible to force Internet service providers and websites to fork over identifying information in criminal cases. Just because you use a fake name to register and set up a website doesn’t mean the “real you” can’t be unmasked – especially in service of a lawsuit.
How Kelly / Warner Law Helped Win This International Online Defamation Lawsuit
What The UK Team Needed to Prove
Due to the severity and nature of the accusations, the plaintiff’s legal team accused Britton of online harassment — a criminal charge in the United Kingdom. As such, the lawyers had to present evidence that satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt” standards. A simple IP address would not suffice, because, technically, IP addresses only represent computers, not people.
The U.K. legal team faced another challenge: Britton had done all his digital dirty work via U.S. companies. As an overseas practice, the prosecuting firm needed to partner with state-side practices that could obtain court orders compelling the U.S. ISP’s to hand over information in service of the lawsuit.
What Kelly Warner Did To Help Win This International Internet Law Caper
Our firm, Kelly / Warner, was one of the practices that partnered with the prosecuting U.K. legal team. Since Britton used U.S.-based ISPs to carry out his online revenge scheme, the plaintiff’s lawyers had a digital discovery challenge on their hands. In order to crack the case, they needed court orders, from U.S. judges, compelling parties – like PayPal.com and GoDaddy – to hand over user information.
We helped get those court orders.
Once in hand, the plaintiff’s U.K. lawyers were able to craft an unimpeachable case that included telephone recordings and password evidence.
Defense Argument That Didn’t Work In This International Internet Law Case
In this case, Britton’s defense attorneys used a decidedly 21st century legal argument [Paraphrasing]:
Since Britton’s disparaging sites didn’t appear in the first few pages of SERPs (search engine result pages), no harm was done, because nobody pays attention to SERP results past page three.
Some might call this the “twinkie defense” of Internet defamation law, but the argument isn’t completely baseless. At least under U.S. law, which requires nearly all* defamation plaintiffs to prove material harm. If a defendant can successfully argue that few people saw the material in question, case law precedence demands that even though a false statement of fact was made, the lack of material damage fails to meet the required preponderance of evidence for a successful libel claim.
(*Note: This statement doesn’t account for defamation per se. Defamation per se is a classification of slander or libel in which the accusation is recognized as inherently damaging. In such cases, the plaintiff doesn’t need to prove material harm, as it is inferred. Calling someone a pedophile would undoubtedly be considered defamatory per se in most jurisdictions that recognize the standard.)
Kelly / Warner: International Internet Governance Law
Due to the mounds of evidence, Britton had no choice but to plead guilty to criminal online harassment charges. No trial needed.
Kelly / Warner has considerable experience with international online defamation litigation. Frequently, we partner with overseas firms to close cross-border cases. Our attorneys and support staff know how to maneuver for a successful court order in online defamation and harassment cases.