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Possible Punishments For Defamation of Character Via the Internet

These people tend to post offensive material solely using pseudonyms. In rare cases an offender may own top level domains, like .co.uk or.com. Where the offender owns a top level domain this is helpful because top level domains are issued by ICANN approved registries. In the UK Nominet is the central registry for.UK domain names. Note that there is a difference between the registry, Nominet, and the registrar and host of the domain.

Registries give a registrant the option of withholding their address from the WHOIS service. Invariably people who bear others ill will do not want their terrestrial contact details to be known. Although they may give a name, in my experience, they will withhold their terrestrial address details.

In some cases, disclosure of their address details can be obtained. This does not always mean being able to find the offender. They may have omitted a middle name and have given out of date information to the central registry. They may have moved address since registering the domain name.

Another method of tracking an offender is through an Internet protocol address. There is a myth that to trace an offender on the web all you need is an Internet protocol address. An internet protocol address is a number assigned to a connection to the Internet. Large carriers assign IP addresses. As I mentioned before, the registrar and host of the domain name would be anyone of hundreds in the UK. Their information should be easily identifiable on the WHOIS look up. It will be the ISP that will be able to disclose the most recent IP address used by the offender. A reverse look up will give the name of the carrier allocating that IP address.

The responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of a disclosure of data under Section 29 or 35 of the Data Protection Act 1998, (DPA) rests with the data controller of the information. In using these sections as an exemption to the DPA the carrier must be able to defend its actions if it is ever challenged. Carriers receive several requests for information and due to the complexity involved have decided that they will only disclose where they are ordered to do so by the court. So to get a carrier to disclose the terrestrial address of one of the IP addresses allocated by that carrier to its customer, you have to get a court disclosure order. This can take sometime. It is important to note that there is a distinction between a fixed and dynamic IP address. With a dynamic IP address, carriers only keep the details for a limited period from its last use. IP addresses might be allocated to a cybercafe and lead to nowhere.

So if you can find the offender and you can prove that she was the one that has been posting false and offensive material about you on the Internet then you have the following remedies:

1. The court has jurisdiction to grant an injunction to restrain the offender and to enjoin her to bring down all the offensive material.

2. You may claim compensatory damages for the defamation, for injury to feelings and to reputation. There is no interest for compensatory damages.

3. Special damages for financial loss. You must identify the specific losses you claim to have suffered. You are entitled to claim interest.

4. Exemplary damages. You have to show that the offender posted the material falsely or recklessly as to truth or falsity calculating that the benefit to her would outweigh any compensation.

5. Recover your reasonable legal costs. In court cases the costs normally follow the case. So if you are victorious you should get your costs of having to bring the case. However you will not get your costs on assessment if they are not reasonable (e.g. if your lawyer charges £500 per hour and the court finds that £250 is the reasonable rate then you will only recover your costs at £250 per hour).

In another type of claim, one for harassment, if you can show that the offender is harassing you. Then if you get an injunction order and she breaches that then you can apply to have her imprisoned. This is no simple task since the evidential burden for proving a crime is beyond all reasonable doubt.

Actions

1. Get an Internet lawyer as quickly as possible.

2. You need to show you have suffered loss for special damage.

3. If you are to be successful on harassment you need to show distress.

4. Be patient.

5. Online defamation is technical and complex. You need an online defamation solicitor that has

lots experience of these cases.