Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Ex-teacher to sue Friends Reunited and ISP

Out-Law News | 24 Jun 2002 | 12:00 am | 1 min. read

A retired teacher has announced that he is suing Friends Reunited and an ISP, according to a report today by The Scotsman newspaper. Jim Murray recently won damages from an individual who posted defamatory comments about him on the popular web site.

The web site targets former school pupils, giving them an opportunity to contact each other and post information about themselves and their memories of schooldays. It has over 6.2 million registered users and receives 200 million page impressions per month.

Jonathan Spencer made comments on the site, wrongly alleging that Murray had been sacked for making rude comments about female pupils and for “strangling” a pupil. In the UK’s first award of damages for internet defamation, Murray won an award of £1,250 against Spencer. Describing the sum as “peanuts,” The Scotsman reports that Murray now plans to pursue both the web site and the internet service provider that hosts it.

Little information on Murray’s new action is available. However, it would be significant if Friends Reunited and/or an ISP were found to be liable.

When the operator of the site was notified that defamatory comments appeared on its message board, the operator apparently removed the offending comments. This is in accordance with the law.

It is not necessary for those that host message boards to police the content of these boards, provided they act immediately to remove or disable access to comments or other material on their pages upon receiving notice that it is defamatory or illegal. This protection for web hosts is reinforced by the E-commerce Directive, although the Directive has still to be implemented into UK law.

In a German case last month, former tennis star Steffi Graf won a controversial ruling against Microsoft.

A site hosted by Microsoft allowed users to post images on-line. One user posted an image which purported to be a nude picture of Graf. In fact, it was Graf’s head morphed to another’s nude body. Graf demanded that Microsoft remove the offending image and Microsoft complied. However, according to media reports, Microsoft was found liable for refusing to guarantee that no such images would appear on its sites in future.

Microsoft’s argument was that it does not monitor its web site but that it will comply with take-down notices. The German court’s decision appears to be contrary to the principles of the E-commerce Directive.

Murray told The Scotsman:

“I am pursuing a case against Friends Reunited not just because I think they are accountable for the slur against my name but also because I am aware that many other people have suffered the upset of reading something completely untrue about themselves on the site.”