Anyone who has been defamed online knows how devastating such experience could be to a person’s professional and social reputation. Indeed, even years later, some victims are still afraid to “google” their names, not wanting to discover an obscure link that contains the defamation.
The case of the defamatory blog
Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
Someone who does not like you posts comments about you, anonymously, which are untrue and defamatory. Within minutes of their posting, they are picked up by other websites. Worse yet, search engines such as Google pick them up so that, if someone runs a search under your name, the results contain the defamatory comments.
What should you do?
Time is of the essence
You must move very quickly. The longer you wait to respond, not only is irreparable harm being done to you and your reputation, but the defamatory statements are likely spreading rapidly all over the web, and your task of removing them from cyberspace is becoming more and more difficult.
Consult a lawyer with expertise in Internet defamation
Because the field of internet defamation is technical and complex, you need a lawyer who can quickly respond to the practical and legal aspects of the problem.
Locate the website operator and Internet Service Providers
If the posting is made anonymously, one of the first things your lawyer will attempt to do is identify and locate the contact information of the relevant internet service providers (“ISPs”). If you are lucky, this might be a relatively simple task. In some cases, however, it may require the services of a computer forensic expert.
Identifying the blogger
Because the blogger is anonymous, you should consider bringing an application to a Canadian court for an order that the ISP reveal the contact information of the anonymous blogger (for more information, see Angry Bloggers Beware! – Your Anonymity is not Guaranteed ). This is particularly useful if the person who is defaming you is someone you know. Once they are faced with the possibility of being discovered and sued, they might decide to take down the posting themselves.
Notice to the website operator or ISP
In Canada, a website operator or ISP that continues to publish defamatory content on the internet after receiving notice of the defamation, may be held liable for publishing it (for more details, see Cyberlibel – Why Your Interactive Website Might Expose you to Liability ).
You should, therefore, send a formal notice to the website operator or ISP, advising them of the defamation and demanding the immediate removal of the defamatory content. The website operator and ISP might respond positively by removing the content voluntarily. If they do not respond, however, legal action should be considered, including the option of bringing an application to a court for an order to remove the content.
Depending on where in Canada the parties are located, there might be strict timelines for serving notice or commencing legal action against the website operator or ISP. That is another reason why you should consult with an experienced lawyer as soon as you discover the defamation. If you wait too long, you might miss an important deadline that could be fatal to your case.
For more information on how to deal with American ISPs and Search Engines, see next months’ postings.
Maanit Zemel, Associate
Miller Thomson LLP
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