Libel Proceedings: Considerations for Business

11 November 2016

Author: Fergal McGoldrick
Practice Area: Media and Defamation

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Recent news reports have revealed that Karl Oyston, Chairman of Blackpool F.C., has expressed regret over some of the legal actions initiated by him and his father (and club owner) Owen Oyston, against individuals concerning online comments.

In an interview given to a local BBC radio station, Mr. Oyston explained that “with hindsight, we probably should not have taken some of action we’ve taken”.

The interview comes in the wake of the Oystons’ decision to cease a legal action against a fan of the club, and pay all of the associated costs. Previously, the Oystons had secured damages and apologies from other fans of the club, following comments made online.

 

The club released a statement announcing the decision in this case, noting that it had been agreed that continuing the action against the fan “is not in the best interests of the club or wider support base”.

Comment:

In a world where everyone with a smartphone can publish to millions in seconds, businesses are increasingly faced with an ever present threat of objectionable content being published and disseminated at speed online, perhaps by just one disaffected customer or employee. Where this content might be libellous, pre-internet/social media practice was to embark immediately on libel proceedings, in an effort to secure a remedy for the reputational damage allegedly suffered.

 

Whilst this is still the most likely, and often, the only route open to businesses in such circumstances, the complexities of libel law and the challenges social media brings to concepts of identification, publication, and meaning have resulted in a vast and continuously changing libel law landscape. Such considerations are even more pronounced where the potential defendant is an individual who may be of limited means rather than, as was usually the case in times gone by, a large media organisation,.

 

In addition, the advent of the citizen journalist on social media, and the rolling news cycle means that businesses may also need to evaluate the reputational considerations commencing libel proceedings will engage, with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

 

Given the multiplicity and the intricacy of the factors in play, our experience has shown that businesses who encounter such issues are best served by a full appraisal of their case at the outset, to allow the business to make a fully informed decision on the most commercial way of resolving its concerns.

 

For further information on this please contact Fergal McGoldrick.

 

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