24

There is an alleged scammer in my community. An article about him was published by our local news site.

As I have a lot of contacts, I shared the article to all my contacts and it became viral. He is now threatening to sue me for defamation. He is well versed in legal matters and have taken people to court several times.

The article about him is definitely true, but obviously he can deny them all in court.

Should I be concerned?


Thank you for all the answers. I am in Australia. To be precise, I said 'Please be aware of this alleged scammer' + link to the article. It was published by www.theaustralian.com.au, a top news outlet. I was careful to not indict. He has only threatened me.

6
  • How did you share? Just the link, or reposted the contents?
    – Greendrake
    Aug 26 at 2:15
  • Just the link, warning others about this person. Aug 26 at 2:46
  • 7
    "our local news site" is a very vague thing. Is this the website of an accredited news organization? One guy sounding off about local politics? Something in between? Aug 26 at 14:42
  • artslaw.com.au/images/uploads/… may be of use to the OP.
    – Yakk
    Aug 26 at 18:47
  • Are you being threatened by the individual, or has a lawyer written you an official letter demanding a takedown/retraction? There's a big difference.
    – throx
    Aug 26 at 22:42
41

Repeating a defamatory statement is itself defamatory

This is known as the repetition rule and is illustrated in Brown v Bower & Another [2017] EWHC 2637 (QB). In essence, the "local news site" is responsible for the reputational damage suffered by their publication and you are responsible for the damage caused by your amplification of that publication. So if the local news article was seen by a few dozen people locally, the damages might be relatively modest. If your publication caused it to be seen by millions of people and caused nationwide or worldwide damage to the person's reputation so that they are at risk of losing income or opportunities in the future, the damages can be vast.

How you shared it is important. If you endorsed it, which includes forwarding it without commentary, then it is likely defamatory. If you were more circumspect and said something that shows an open mind to the allegations like "This is an interesting story, I can't wait to see how it plays out", then it's likely not defamatory.

Of course, if the allegations are true then you have nothing to worry about; truth is a complete defence to defamation. You can prove that they are true, right? I mean with real evidence like a conviction for fraud. Or, at the very least, pending or actual charges from the police. Or, failing that you have good evidence that you yourself have been scammed specifically by this person. Or that you have had people who have been scammed tell you personally exactly how it happened?

No? Well, I wouldn't count on a truth defence if I were you.

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Aug 27 at 3:55
20

Should I be concerned?

Thats not a question about the law, and this site is off topic for actual legal advice questions, but there is an answer which is on-topic, not legal advice and worth saying.

The person you have described is litigious in nature - they use the courts for their own ends, perhaps even for bullying.

Should you be concerned?

Yes - not that the person has any case against you, but because they can cost you time, money and reputation even without a case. All they have to do is make it costly for you to fight a case against them - they can draw out the legal process so you have to retain legal assistance for longer, they can make disparaging remarks and claims about you, and they can withdraw the case at a later date with little negative outcome unless you sue them back.

Get a lawyer, now, and see what you can do to head this off.

1
11

If the article on the "local news site" was false, or cannot be proved true and if it harmed, or was likely to harm, the reputation of the alleged scammer, it was probably defamatory. Repeating a defamatory statement can itself be defamation. Whether it is in fact defamation depends on whether the repetition was done in a way likely to be seen as endorsing the original story, or in a way that contests it, or in a way that neutrally analyzes it without either endorsing or contesting the original story.

Posting a link to a news story is less likely to be held to be defamation than would repeating the whole story, or its defamatory statements. However, if the link was so distributed that it significantly spread defamatory statements, it might itself constitute defamation.

In any case, even if the statements can be proved true, or the poster has another clear defense to an accusation of defamation, defending a suit can be costly and troublesome.

In some jurisdictions there are so-called "anti-SLAPP" laws. These can be invoked when a defamation suit is used to unduly burden speech that is of public value, sch a news reporting or comments on current public issues. (SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation".) Such laws can be used to have an improper suit dismissed at an early stage, before undue burdens are imposed. Exactly how and when such laws may be invoked varies depending on the jurisdiction, and they do not exist at all in some jurisdictions. One would be wise to consult a lawyer knowledgeable in defamation law to see if a anti-SLAPP law, or some other tactic, could avoid a burdensome suit.

A threat to sue from a person noted from having sued others with some frequency would usually be grounds for concern.

8

Jurisdiction:

I'm posting this to add to the other answers, so I won't go into details on the defence of truth other than to say that in England and Wales this can be found in section 2 of the Defamation Act 2013.

However, that is not the only defence. There are also the honest opinion and public interest defences. Either of those could be applicable in this case depending on the facts.

It may also be helpful for you to be aware of the limitation period in your jurisdiction for defamation. In England and Wales it is much shorter than for most other causes of action (which is most commonly 6 years). While not helpful if the claimant issues a claim in time, it can relieve the pressure somewhat once the period has expired.

A claim must be brought within 1 year of the date on which the defamation ocurred, pursuant to section 4A of the Limitation Act 1980. This is subject to the court's discretion to permit defamation cases to proceed outside the limitation period pursuant to section 32A.

In cases of re-publishing, the clock starts running on the date of the first publication as provided for in section 8 of the Defamation Act 2013, unless the re-publication is "materially different", including the level of prominence and extent of the re-publication. So any gap in time between the first publication and your re-publication may work to your advantage.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.