Taken from www.ComputerContractor.net Forum.
The ability of users of internet bulletin boards to remain anonymous was placed in serious doubt yesterday after Terry Smith, chief executive of City firm Collins Stewart Tullett, won a landmark libel settlement.
Mr Smith and his firm won “”substantial”” damages from Jeremy Benjamin, a fund manager who posted false allegations on the Motley Fool web site using the invented web name “”analyser71″”.
The claims were described in a high court statement yesterday as “”serious allegations of criminal and dishonest financial wrongdoing by Mr Smith and the claimant companies”” and “”a grave slur on Mr Smith’s personal and professional integrity””.
Mr Benjamin, in the same court statement, said he “”now accepts his serious error in publishing these libels””. His claims were made in September and October 2003.
Mr Benjamin was traced after Mr Smith’s lawyers, the City firm Rosenblatt, won a court order forcing Motley Fool to reveal what details it held on “”analyser71″”, including the identification number of his computer and his email address. Motley Fool had refused to volunteer the details without a court order.
The computer was traced to Mr Benjamin’s employer at the time, Kyte Fund Management. He has since left the firm.
Mr Smith’s lawyers were able to establish that the bulletin board postings were viewed from 49 computers before they were removed by Motley Fool. Oliver Smith, of Rosenblatt, argued that the relatively small number did not diminish the seriousness of the libel.
“”Forty nine may not seem to be a large number, but they could have been 49 influential people in financial services and they could have copied the messages and sent them to other influential people,”” he said.
As well as undisclosed damages, Mr Benjamin has agreed to pay the claimants’ legal costs, which are understood to be three times as much.
Mr Benjamin is thought to have been a friend of James Middleweek, the former Collins Stewart employee who last year settled his own 18-month dispute with the firm and Mr Smith. In that case, no money changed hands.
Mr Benjamin’s comments on Motley Fool’s discussion board related to the Mail on Sunday’s coverage of Mr Middleweek’s allegations against Collins Stewart.
Mr Smith and his firm are pursing the Financial Times for alleged libel in articles that reported the same allegations. The FT has defended itself vigorously and the case is due in court in November.
The Benjamin case is thought to be possibly the first internet-related case in which a defendant has settled publicly after making comments anonymously.
Rosenblatt’s Mr Smith said: “”In September and October 2003, he may have thought he could say these things anonymously and would not have expected that in March 2005 it would end up costing him a substantial amount of money.””
Mr Benjamin’s admission of libel was comprehensive. The court statement said: “”He recognises the significant damage they [the libels] have done given that the website in question is aimed at and used by professionals in the financial services industry working in the City of London where the claimants carry on business.
“”The defendant is here today by his solicitor to withdraw the allegations unreservedly and to apologise publicly to Mr Smith and the other claimants.””