User sued over post on mag website

A website user is facing legal action over statements he made about a yachting company on a magazine's forum.

Craig Powell wrote about Hampshire-based SD Marine under the heading "Re: Honest brokers or back- street cowboys", according to a High Court writ. The comment was published on the IPC Yachting World website, but the writer has no connection to the magazine and IPC is not being sued.

An IPC spokeswoman said the comment was posted by a site user "entirely at his own responsibility, subject to the site's terms and conditions". Powell removed the posting himself before the company contacted IPC.

When SD Marine complained about the allegations in March, Powell made an unqualified offer of amends on the same day, the court will hear. Now SD Marine is asking the High Court to order him to make a suitable correction and apology, to be published in a reasonable manner. The company is also asking for compensation of up to £50,000, and costs.

Powell, from Wakeford, published his comments on 23 March, and the company's solicitors emailed a complaint about his words within hours, the writ says. By 4.28pm that day, Powell had made an unqualified offer of amends under the Defamation Act 1996, over his statement about the company.

Under the act, if plaintiffs are willing to accept damages of £10,000 or less they can take advantage of this ‘fast track' procedure. But the two sides are thought unable to agree the wording of the apology, or the amount of damages. 

Defamation Act 1996 – Discussion Site Defence

Under Section One of the Defamation Act 1996, an internet service provider or the operators of an internet discussion site have a defence if they can show that, once they were made aware of the defamatory statement, they took reasonable care.

Ashley Hurst, solicitor in the media litigation department of Olswang law firm, said that online publishers should be aware that: "First, companies are becoming increasingly vigilant about statements made about them on the internet, due to the potential of the internet to spread damaging allegations quickly and widely.

"Secondly, following last week's House of Lords judgment in Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe, it has been confirmed that companies can bring a claim for defamation without having to show specific financial losses.

"Thirdly, ISPs or operators of websites and discussion forums may have a defence under Section One of the Defamation Act 1996 if they did not know of the defamatory allegations and took reasonable care — which, in practice, usually means that once aware of the defamatory allegations, they should take the defamatory material down while the matter is investigated."

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