I’m Being Sued by Wayne Crookes

P2Pnet.net reports that I’m being sued by Wayne Crookes. I’m named in the same suit as the one he’s launched against Dr. Michael Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, and is an occasional columnist for the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, and BBC.

Geist writes about this on his blog:

There are several reports (here, here, and here) that Wayne Crookes, who previously launched suits against a wide range of parties including Wikipedia, Yahoo, and a domain name registrar, has sued me in B.C. courts for defamation. I have not been served with the suit, but the reports indicate that I am being sued for an allegedly defamatory third party comment on my site that I took down and for writing about, and linking to, P2PNet.net, which in turn linked to another site that allegedly contained a defamatory posting. In other words, I’m reportedly being sued for maintaining a blogroll that links to a site that links to a site that contains some allegedly defamatory third party comments.

The claims against me are similar.

Geist, before he was a defendant, wrote in the Toronto Star about the significance of these suits:

The lawsuits could prove to be critically important to the Internet in Canada, however, because they cast the net of liability far wider than just the initial posters. Indeed, the lawsuits seek to hold accountable sites and services that host the articles, feature comments about the articles, include hyperlinks to the articles, fail to actively monitor their content to ensure that allegedly defamatory articles are not reposted after being removed, and even those that implement the domain name registrations of sites that host the articles.

The common link with all of these targets is that none are directly responsible for alleged defamation. Rather, the Crookes lawsuits maintain that Internet intermediaries should be held equally responsible for such content.

For example, one lawsuit argues that Yahoo! refused to shut down an offending site – a Green Party of Canada chat board – and therefore libelled Crookes. Similarly, MySpace is targeted both for its failure to shut down a personal page that contained allegedly defamatory content as well as for its refusal to remove a link to OpenPolitics.ca, a site that the suit claims hosted defamatory content (Crookes has also sued OpenPolitics.ca).

The inclusion of Wikipedia in the lawsuit extends the circle of liability even further. According to the statement of claim, an article about Crookes appeared on three occasions in Wikipedia. In each instance, Crookes asked Wikimedia, the company that maintains the popular online encyclopedia, to remove the article. In each instance, it complied with the request.

Despite taking down the content, Wikimedia has now been sued for failing to “monitor its website to ensure that the libels of [Crookes] did not reappear on its website.” Moreover, the suit also seeks to hold it liable for refusing to remove an article on online journalism that contains a hyperlink to an article about Crookes.

The broadest extension of liability in the lawsuit involves the inclusion of a U.S.-based service called Domains By Proxy. The company, which allows individuals to protect their privacy by anonymously registering domain names, is being sued for refusing to divulge the identity of the registrant of a website that contained an article about Crookes. The lawsuit argues that the domain name registration service has “accepted responsibility for the actions of the owner of the website.”

While it will fall to a judge to determine whether the articles and postings are indeed defamatory, the inclusion of such a broad range of Internet intermediaries could have a significant chilling effect on free speech in Canada.

If successful, the suits would effectively require websites – including anyone who permits comments on a blog or includes links to other sites – to proactively monitor and remove content that may raise liability concerns. They will also call into question the ability of domain name registrants to guard their privacy by refusing to publicly disclose their identities.

In response, it is likely that many sites will simply drop the ability to post comments, since the challenge of monitoring and verifying every comment will be too onerous.

Alternatively, many sites may abandon Canada altogether by establishing their online presence in the United States.

Submitted for your information.

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