Tuesday 1 September 2009

Does the woman have of chance of winning her case?

A 29-year-old fashion student, Rosemary Port, wrote derogatory Web posts about a model on her website. In her blog, she referred to her victim, Canadian fashion model Liskula Cohen, as being a ‘shank’ and a ‘ho’. She wrote five posts in August 2008 that labelled Ms. Cohen as a ‘skank’ and a ‘ho’ on a website titled ‘Skanks of NYC’ that was created using Google's Blogger service.

There are no definitions in standard English dictionaries describing the word, ‘shank’ as being specifically a derogatory term however as many as 47% of those polled nevertheless think that the slang word ‘shank’ is a derogatory term. It has however been used in standard dictionaries when implying someone is stealing something and it also refers to an illegal knife in a prison.

The slang word; ‘ho’ is used to define someone as a prostitute or that such a person has indiscriminate sex with anybody and therefore, is undesirable.

I don’t know why the word, ‘shank’ was used by Ms. Port in her Web posts without knowing just how it was used in her comments but the slang word, ‘ho’, is extremely insulting and derogatory.

Ms. Port did this act thinking that she could defame someone anonymously and never be caught doing it. It goes without saying that Ms. Cohen was extremely upset and decided that she wanted to find out who was defaming her in such a manner.

After applying for a court order to obtain the information on the person who defamed her, last week, New York Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden ordered Google to hand over the computer IP address and email address of the blogger, and Ms. Cohen learned that the woman behind the posts was Rosemary Port. In my opinion, the request she made to the court was quite justified and the court’s decision was quite right.

It would, however, appear that Ms. Port isn’t too happy that she has been discovered as the perpetrator who had the audacity to defame another human being in her Web posts. She has now announced that she intends to sue Google for revealing her identity.

While the case has raised numerous issues surrounding an Internet user's rights to free and anonymous speech in the digital age, Ms. Port plans to file a US$15million federal lawsuit against Google for failing to protect her privacy, according to the New York Daily News newspaper.

When it became obvious to Ms. Port that someone was making enquiries about her identity, Google’s lawyers told her not to worry. Well, we all know that lawyers make lots of mistakes and that was one mistake that displeased Ms. Port. She said, "When I was being defended by attorneys for Google, I thought my right to privacy was being protected. But that right fell through the cracks. Without any warning, I was put on a silver platter for the press to attack me. I would think that a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate would protect the rights of all its users."

It is beyond me why this foolish woman is under the impression that she can defame a person in her blogs with impunity and then expect Google to protect her from her victim.

Normally, Google has to be careful how it treats those who use it and privacy rights are paramount in certain situations that can arise. However, there are times when privacy must stand aside for the better good of the public. For example, we cannot threaten someone on the Internet and then expect to remain anonymous forever. This same principle applies when someone chooses to defame someone on the Internet.

What makes Ms. Port appear as if she is not all right in her mind is that she actually thinks that she can successfully sue Google when in fact; Google had no other choice but to make its disclosure since it was acting on a direct order from a court.

To Google’s credit, the people who operate it said; "We also take great care to respect privacy concerns and will only provide information about a user in response to a subpoena or other court order. If content is found by a court to be defamatory, we will of course remove it immediately."

Ms. Port then stupidly said, “Ms. Cohen has no one but herself to blame for the public spectacle caused by the case. By going to the press, she defamed herself. Before her suit, there were probably two hits on my website: One from me looking at it, and one from her looking at it. That was before it became a spectacle. I feel my right to privacy has been violated."

What this silly woman doesn’t realize is that even though a posting may initially be seen by the person who wrote it and his or her victim who reads it, unless it is then removed from the Internet, there is a good chance that others will end up seeing it also. For example, if someone goes to Google and types in the word, ‘ho’, eventually Ms. Port’s posting will appear. Once that happens, then the post will take on a life of its own and like rabbits; its readership will grow in numbers ad finitum.

This woman even went so far as to say; "I feel proud to live in a country where you're not persecuted for your opinions. That right has to be protected."

I don’t take issue with one’s right to not be persecuted for publishing one’s opinions but there has to be a limit as to what you can say in your comments. For example, you can’t advocate genocide. In Canada, if someone was to do that, that person would be sent to prison for a long time even though in Canada, we believe in free speech.

Ms. Port's lawyer, Salvatore Strazzullo, said that Google breached "its fiduciary duty to protect her expectation of anonymity. I'm ready to take this all the way to the Supreme Court," Mr. Strazzullo told the Daily News. Then he added, "Our founding fathers wrote The Federalist Papers under a pseudonym, (because) they felt that inherent in the First Amendment is the right to speak anonymously. Shouldn't that right extend to the new public square of the Internet?" ‘Publius’ was the pseudonym because his more famous name was ‘Publicola’, which meant ‘friend of the people’.

No. The right Mr. Strazzullo proposes shouldn’t be extended. When the founding fathers wrote their essays under a pseudonym, the name they chose was referring to each of them who submitted their own essays. That way, they would all get the credit for all of the essays published. Well known authors of the past and present often use pseudonyms but they take care not to libel someone in their writings. Further, can anyone really publish a blog on the Internet advocating that the president should be murdered and at the same time, claim that they are protected by the First Amendment? I hardly think so.

I hope that this lawyer is prepared to take his client’s case pro bono as it is unlikely that Ms. Port has the money to pay a lawyer to fight a case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Google will only remove defamatory material from Blogger when "the material has been found to be defamatory by a court, as evidenced by a court order," according to Blogger's terms of service.

Google cannot deny this dummy her right to use Google but if she continues to post derogatory blogs on the Internet, she may find herself, being as unpopular in Blogland as cockroaches are in a kitchen and you know what happens to a cockroach when it is stepped on.

Incidentally, calling someone a dummy and saying that she or he is stupid is not defamatory, especially when that person’s actions and statements appear to be the actions and statements of a stupid dummy. The last thing such a person would want to do is sue the person who made the comment since the result coming from the court may officially rule that the plaintiff really is a stupid dummy.

I support the idea that everyone has the right to free speech however, that right must be balanced against the need to protect members of society and for this reason, there are some restraints on free speech that do exist.

We cannot yell, “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. We cannot make threats or promote hatred against races and creeds or promote genocide. Further, we cannot advocate revolution or treason in our own countries unless our countries are victims of a cruel dictatorship and we certainly cannot advocate that someone should break an existing law. And equally important, we cannot defame someone by accusing that person of being something he or she is not unless we can prove that our statements are accurate.

It is undisputed that when free speech is exercised, and presents no danger to the well-being of innocent people or the community that we all live together in, be it a village or our country, then the gift of free speech is; that which we have all inherited as beneficiaries.

No comments: