Internet hosts should be made to pay for libellous statements, suit contends
Special to The Globe and Mail
The hosts of the speed-of-light world of Internet blogs and interactive websites that publish anonymous commentary should be forced to pay when reputations are damaged, says a former Green Party staff member who is suing three such sites.
Google, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and openpolitics.ca, a Canadian political website based in Toronto, are being sued in Vancouver in a libel case that could change the way Internet opinion is monitored and published.
Wayne Crookes, a former campaign manager of the Green Party of Canada, said he “suffered an immense amount of frustration and emotional distress” over postings on Google's Blogspot.com, a free blog-hosting website, within an entry under his name in Wikipedia, and on openpolitics.ca, an interactive political forum set up by Michael Pilling, an Ontario and federal Green Party activist.
The lawsuit against Google was filed in British Columbia Supreme Court on April 16. It states that last summer, six anonymous defendants put libellous comments on Blogspot's The Green Compost Heap under passages labelled “Wayne Crookes” and the “Gang of Crookes.”
The suit against Wikipedia was filed on April 17. In this case, an article on Mr. Crookes written under the pseudonym of “Indyperson” repeated some of the comments that appeared on The Green Compost Heap.
The lawsuit against openpolitics.ca was made in May, 2006, and stems from postings in early 2005.
“I resent very much irresponsible statements made very recklessly. I'm determined that the people who have acted so irresponsibly will find that there are consequences,” Mr. Crookes said.
“I hope that the outcome is that people will realize they have obligations and that they will be forced to accept responsibility for their actions. The larger the organization, the greater the expectation that they will be held accountable for their actions.”
Mr. Pilling, a former research head for the Green Party of Canada, confirmed that he was preparing to defend himself vigorously.
He said he understood why Mr. Crookes was upset, but that the case had wider implications.
“It is a case that could potentially go all the way to the Supreme Court because there is very little on the books in Canadian case law with respect to libel and Internet defamation,” he said.
“As the operator of the site, I'm being held responsible for edits that were made by others either as registered users or anonymous users.
“[Mr.] Crookes seems to contend that even though pages were removed from public view or potentially defamatory words were removed from the page that [as moderator of the site], I'm still liable.”
Dermod Travis, a former communications director for the Green Party who is acting as Mr. Crookes's spokesman, said that the defendants “chose not to respond appropriately when put on notice that they [had] crossed a line.''
The American headquarters of both Google and Wikipedia declined to comment as they had not yet been served with the writ.