Disgruntled fans of Sheffield Wednesday who vented their dissatisfaction with the football club’s bigwigs in anonymous internet postings may face expensive libel claims after the chairman, chief executive and five directors won a high-court ruling last week forcing the owner of a website to reveal their identity.
The case, featuring the website owlstalk.co.uk, is the second within days to highlight the danger of assuming that the apparent cloak of anonymity gives users of internet forums and chatrooms carte blanche to say whatever they like.
In another high court case last week, John Finn, owner of the Sunderland property firm Pallion Housing, admitted just before he was due to be cross-examined that he was responsible for a website hosting a scurrilous internet campaign about a rival housing organisation, Gentoo Group, its employees and owner, Peter Walls.
Exposing the identity of those who post damaging lies in cyberspace is a growth area for libel lawyers.
Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.
The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.
Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services. Microsoft places a similar restriction on the books it converts to electronic form. The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service.