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Sun Media lawyer hits back with defamation suit

|Written By Michael McKiernan

The ongoing libel action between legal forums and has spawned another lawsuit, with one of the Lawbuzz defendants now suing a third web site for defamation over commentary on the case.

The web site is now the subject of litigation by Sun Media Corp. lawyer Tycho Manson.

Tycho Manson, a lawyer with Sun Media Corp., is seeking $1 million in damages for statements allegedly made by an anonymous blogger and participants on the web site

Manson also wants a further $1 million for aggravated and punitive damages, according to a statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court.

Manson is one of four lawyers accused of making statements that, according to AdviceScene, cast doubt on the legitimacy of its service. AdviceScene settled with Lawbuzz on the understanding that it would help to identify the four posters who made their comments using Lawbuzz aliases.

In his suit, Manson claims three posts on the Lawbuzzlitigation site after a story about his involvement in the matter appeared in Law Times were defamatory.

Taken together with other comments on the site, his statement of claim says they suggest he’s dishonest and a coward. Some of the comments he complains about are extremely graphic in nature, according to the claim. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Manson suffered particular distress as a result of comments about his relationship with his spouse aiming to cast it “in a negative, obscene, and even violent light,” he alleged in the claim. Manson refused comment when reached by Law Times.

According to the statement of claim, the blogger also e-mailed senior executives at Manson’s employer and affiliated companies with a link to the Lawbuzzlitigation web site. “These e-mails constitute republication of all the defamatory statements,” the claim alleges.

Manson also claims in the suit that the blog has damaged his professional reputation because he needs to work with counsel from across the country, many of whom he doesn’t know well. The blog pops up high in the list of Google search results, according to the statement of claim.

In a move reminiscent of the process that revealed the identities of the Lawbuzz defendants, Manson’s lawyers filed a notice of motion with the court on July 19 indicating their intention to seek an order that would force Google, the owner of the service that hosts the blog, to reveal identifying information about the writer, including details about the Internet service provider. According to the filing, Google has repeatedly refused requests to shut the blog down.

Two of the allegedly defamatory posts were gone by Wednesday, ahead of a hearing on the motion the next day. All three of them subsequently disappeared, but a defiant posting boasted that the entire contents of the blog had been mirrored to other web sites and could easily be found.

“A simple search engine search will spew out cached copies of this blog,” according to a posting on Thursday.

“We will voluntarily purge the remaining entries on this blog,” the site goes on to note.

Law Times’ attempts to contact the blog elicited an e-mailed response from a person claiming to be the anonymous blogger.

“We vehemently and categorically deny Mr. Manson’s baseless, unfounded, capricious, and laughable claims,” the blogger wrote, noting Manson never got in touch about his concerns. “This action is nothing more than a clever attempt to silence dissent and constructive criticisms.”

The blog has taken a hard line on the Lawbuzz defendants by agreeing with the forum’s decision to hand over the names of the posters.

“In totality, Lawbuzz did the right thing and individual posters should be held accountable for their individual posts,” the blogger said in the e-mail. “Moral of the story: post whatever you want, at your discretion and peril.”

At the same time, the blogger insists the identity of whoever is behind the web site is irrelevant since “we flatly deny and vehemently reject the notion that anything we have posted to date is even remotely defamatory.”

Nevertheless, the blog is distancing itself from the anonymous contributors to its web site listed as the John Doe defendants in Manson’s action by claiming it can’t take responsibility for online posters because, according to the e-mail, it doesn’t “have the manpower and resources to monitor every single anonymous post.”

For more on this story, see "Lawbuzz posters had added duty: AdviceScene," "Lawbuzz suit ups ante, names three more lawyers," and "Online comments spark messy litigation."

  • BC
    I agree with John John. Besides, the Google Blogger end-user agreement doesn't say anything about a blog author's responsibility to "moderate" or "take responsibility" for the behavior of commenters. Terms of the agreement include refraining from posting adult/pornographic images and links, threats of violence, inciting hate or genocide, compromising privacy, influencing criminal activity, commercial business or sex solicitations, etc. but nothing of that sort or the like was ever posted on the Lawbuzz Litigation blog (at least not to the best of my knowledge).

    I don't see why Google should take the blog down if the end-user agreement was not violated or breached. No surprise here, really.
  • Was there an \"added duty to care\"?

    John John
    Re: "The blogger explicitly stated he was not going to moderate the comments."

    I don't think the author(s) of the blog can be or should be held to accounts for this. Lawbuzz (site administrators and/or moderators) was hosting the forum on their own domain. Therefore they (Lawbuzz) had an "added duty to care", with respect to the allegedly defamatory comments that had appeared on their site. This "added duty to care" should not apply to the blog author(s) simply because they are hosting this blog on a third party website. If the comments are objectionable, then there is a process and a mechanism (through Google) where a complainant can either alert the site admins or the blog author(s). I don't suppose Manson exercised this option, instead he went on pushing for a blanket shutdown, which now we know Google continues to refuse to do so.

    To look at this in another way, if I were to write an op ed for the National Post, and if NatPo printed that piece on their website, and if anonymous posters commented on my story taking shots at subjects mentioned in my op ed, who has the onus to moderate or who should be liable? The NatPo or me (the author)? I would argue that it'd have to be the commenters, unless comments posted are pre-screened prior to being posted on-line.

    Moreover, the mere utterance name-calling isn't necessarily actionable or sanctionable. Juvenile? You bet. Inappropriate? No doubt. Libelous or slanderous? Now that's a hard pill to swallow. If recall correctly, "name-calling" and hurling insults was more or less an everyday occurrence on Lawbuzz.
  • Obie
    Law Times Reader, I can only assume that you did not see the blog or read the insane ranting of the blogger. No one is complaining “just because a named defendant in a civil proceeding is being presented in an unflattering light.” That blog contained threats of violence against one of the defendants, disgusting personal attacks and racist and anti-Semitic comments. Hundreds of them. The blogger explicitly stated he was not going to moderate the comments. The crazed hateful tone of the blog combined with the fact that the blogger was apparently sending emails to Manson’s employer make me think anyone would have done what Manson did. I also can’t believe anyone would actually defend that blog.
  • Sarah
    The blog seems to first, have inside information, and second, is hostile to the lawbuzz defendants. It also gave me the impression that its author(s) was in support of advice scene and its allegations. Yet, it allows even harsher defamatory content to be posted. Strange.
  • Some thoughts.

    Law Times reader.
    Wouldn't it have been easier and less burdening for Manson to have contacted the webmaster/blogmaster directly requesting a deletion of the offending comments posted by the anonymous posters?

    Also, isn't it a bit rich for Manson to be taking the shotgun approach, going all out suing, when (according to the Law Times article) he did not make any attempts to contact the blogmaster directly? Wasn't it Manson who suggested that AdviceScene's litigious approach was a bit too extreme when they (AdviceScene) could've easily requested a deletion of the defamatory posts? Respectfully, Manson is being hypocritical here.

    Lawbuzz had hosted the message board on its own dedicated site. That doesn't appear to be the case here.

    It will be extremely difficult to prove that the blogmaster had an "added duty to care". I think Google did the right thing by allowing the blog to stay up. Absent a prima facie finding or an injunction order, they (Google) shouldn't be giving in to shut down requests just because a named defendant in a civil proceeding is being presented in an unflattering light.

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