Posts Tagged Defamation

Bitcoin, defamation and jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal confirms stay in Wright v Ver.

The background in Wright v Ver [2020] EWCA Civ 672 is the mysterious history of Bitcoin and its creator, ‘Satoashi Nakamoto’. “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the pseudonym used by the person, or persons, who developed Bitcoin. On 31 October 2008 an academic paper was published under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto titled “Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic cash system”. The academic paper described the manner in which the electronic cash system operated. Dr Craig Wright, claimant and appellant, is a national of Australia who now lives in Surrey. He has lived in the UK since December 2015 after emigrating from Australia. He also became a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017. He is a computer scientist with a particular interest in cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin. Dr Wright says that he is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Roger Ver, defendant and respondent, is a bitcoin investor and commentator on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Mr Ver was born in California, and raised in Silicon Valley. He moved to Japan in 2005. In 2014 he renounced his US citizenship and became a citizen of St Kitts & Nevis, although he continues to live in Japan. Mr Ver does not accept that Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

The judgment does not address whether Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Dr Wright claims that he was libelled by Mr Ver in a YouTube Video posted on the Bitcoin.com YouTube channel on about 15 April 2019, a tweet containing the YouTube Video posted on Mr Ver’s Twitter Account on 3 May 2019, and a reply on Mr Ver’s Twitter Account posted on 3 May 2019 some 8 minutes after the tweet from Mr Ver. The defamatory meaning of these publications is said to be that Dr Wright “had fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, that is to say the person, or one of the group of people who developed Bitcoin”.

Never more (data produced were broken down over periods) than 7 of the total YouTube views were in the UK. 7% of Mr Ver’s Twitter followers are in the UK. By judgment dated 31 July 2019 Mr Justice Nicklin found that England and Wales was not clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring the libel claim in this action and made a declaration that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the claim.

The Court of Appeal, Dingemans LJ leading, agreed. Brussels Ia is not engaged. The jurisdictional test is section 9 of the Defamation Act 2013 – I previously discussed it in Sadik v Sadik: ‘A court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine an action to which this section applies unless the court is satisfied that, of all the places in which the statement complained of has been published, England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring an action in respect of the statement.’

At 56 Dingemans notes that after Brexit, the Act’s reach will increase.

The first instance judge had argued inter alia that the evidence showed that Dr Wright was putting down roots in the UK and that would increase the reputational interests that Dr Wright had in this jurisdiction but that could not displace the global reputation that he enjoyed.

Dr Wright’s counsel submitted that the judge had set Dr Wright an impossible task by requiring him to adduce evidence of actual harm to his reputation in each candidate jurisdiction, and concluding that in the absence of such evidence Dr Wright could not satisfy the jurisdictional test. Further it was submitted that the judge had wrongly failed to carry out a comparative assessment as to whether each candidate jurisdiction was appropriate for the claim, and therefore failed to carry out the task mandated by s9.

Relevant factors for jurisdiction are discussed at 61 ff. Evidence will have to be shown of all the places in which the relevant statement has been published, as well as the number of times it has there been published. Targeting the publication at an English audience clearly will be an issue. Further elements include the availability of fair judicial processes in the other jurisdictions in which publication occurred. The available remedies from the Courts of the other jurisdictions may be relevant, as may be the costs of pursuing proceedings in each possible jurisdiction. Other factors that might impact on access to justice, for example language barriers, can be relevant. The location of likely witnesses is another feature that may be relevant. This list of factors is not exhaustive.

In a mercifully succinct manner, Dingemans J reviews all the elements and decides the test has not been met here.

A good primer for the 2013 Act.

Geert.

 

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Swamdi Ramdev v Facebook, Google, Youtube et al at the Delhi High Court: Worldwide removal ordered without much hesitation.

Update 14 November 2019 the judgment is, unsurprisingly, being appealed.

‘The race between technology and the law could be termed as a hare and tortoise race – As technology gallops, the law tries to keep pace.’ (see further below).

Thank you Daphne Keller for flagging CS (OS) 27/2019 Swami Ramdev et al v Facebook et al at the Delhi High Court on 23 October. Defendants are Facebook Inc, Google Inc, YouTube LLC, Twitter etc. The allegation of Plaintiffs is that various defamatory remarks and information including videos, found earlier to have been defamatory (a judgment currently before the Supreme Court without having been stayed), are being disseminated over the Defendants’ platforms.

At 6 Prathiba M Singh J summarises the parties’ position: None of the Defendants have any objection to blocking the URLs and disabling the same, insofar as access in India is concerned. However, all the Defendant platforms have raised objections to removal/blocking/disabling the impugned content on a global basis. On the other hand, the Plaintiffs argued that blocking merely for the Indian territory alone is not sufficient as the content would be accessible through international websites, which can be accessed in India. Thus, according to the Plaintiffs, for the remedy to be effective, a global blocking order ought to be passed.

Particularly in the review of plaintiff’s submission at 8 ff, the parallel is clear with the discussions on the role of intermediaries in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook. Reference of course is also made to Equustek and, at 64, to the CJEU in Google v CNIL. Facebook refers to the material difference between defamation laws across the globe: at 10: ‘Defamation laws differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and therefore, passing of a global disabling order would be contrary to the principle of comity of Courts and would result in conflict of laws.’

At 44 ff Prathiba M Singh J extensively reviews global precedent, and, at 69, to Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook. At 88 ff this leads justice Singh

Firstly, to uphold fairly straightforwardly the court’s power to order global delisting given the origin in India of the original act of uploading: ‘The act of uploading vests jurisdiction in the Courts where the uploading takes place. If any information or data has been uploaded from India on to a computer resource which has resulted in residing of the data on the network and global dissemination of the said information or data, then the platforms are liable to remove or disable access to the said information and data from that very computer resource. The removal or disabling cannot be restricted to a part of that resource, serving a geographical location.’

>>>Clearly the authority of the finding (likely to be appealed) may therefore be limited to situations of content uploading from inside the jurisdiction.

Further, at 99, to make an effectiveness argument: ‘it is clear that any order passed by the Court has to be effective. The parties before this Court i.e. the platforms are sufficiently capable to enforce an order of global blocking. Further, it is not disputed that the platforms are subject to in personam jurisdiction of this Court.’

>>>The latter element, again, may limit the authority of the judgment. I am not au fait with the ground for jurisdiction in the case at issue.

Finally, at 91: ‘The race between technology and the law could be termed as a hare and tortoise race – As technology gallops, the law tries to keep pace’. This does not imply the law simply laying down to have its belly rubbed. Exactly my sentiment in my post on the UK AI case.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5

 

 

 

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Arlewin v Sweden. Strasbourg-Luxembourg combination football on defamation via satellite.

Others have reported in some detail, and I am happy to refer, on Arlewin v Sweden at the ECtHR – the second Strasbourg conflicts ruling I report on in more or less one week. Epra have a short and sweet review, based mostly on the Court’s press release but useful nevertheless: they for instance suggest that Strasbourg have extended e-Date Advertising’s centre of interests rule for infringement of personality rights via the internet, to transmission by satellite. Dirk Voorhoof takes the media regulation angle. Dr Takis has the most extensive review over at Profs Peers and Barnard’s EU law analysis.

The case is a good illustration of an important port of entry for the ECHR into EU conflicts law in commercial litigation at least (I am not talking here of family law): Article 6’s right to fair trial. (See here for more extensive review of the Convention’s impact on European private international law). Strasbourg and Luxemburg are playing combination football here: the ECtHR approving of the CJEU’s application of the Brussels I Regulation in the case of libel and defamation. Especially with the EC’s recent shift of focus to the plaintiff’s position rather than the defendant’s, nothing guarantees of course that in the future EU law at this point might not be at odds with human rights law.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.4 .

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An end to libel tourism in the UK? The High Court in Subotic and Karpov. Abuse principles sink jurisdiction.

Two interesting cases in the High Court on libel tourism, Subotic and Karpov (both held 14 October 2013). The relevance to English libel law is set out by Robert Renfree and by Paul Dacam. Here I just wanted to flag the jurisdictional issues under the Brussels regime.

In Subotic, a Serbian national living in Switzerland, Dingemans J accepted English jurisdiction in principle although it is not entirely clear on what basis. Domicile of the defendant at the time of the initiation of the claim was alleged by claimant to have been England. However defendant disputed such domicile, referring to inferred addresses having been a left-over of earlier study in the UK (but adding complaints about his wife and children’s address in London having been found, whence the dispute on domicile was not entirely clear). Counsel for the defendant also referred to his client having shied away, for costs reasons, from English proceedings after earlier acceptance to entertain the claim – however this potential voluntary appearance under Article 24 of the Regulation was not further reviewed.  It is most likely that acceptance of jurisdiction was made on the basis of Article 5(3) of the Regulation however as readers will be aware, that does limit jurisdiction to damage in the UK only (the alleged acts leading to libel not having taken place in the UK, only some of the reputational damage). To add to the fog, parallel proceedings are alleged by plaintiff to be underway in Switzerland although their course is unclear. Finally, defendant now is domiciled in Croatia, EU Member State since 1 July 2013. As Dingemans suggested, this would certainly not stand in the way of new proceedings there (although it could of course lead to lis alibi pendens considerations, depending on what would be asked of the Croatian court).

Eventually, Dingemans held that continuation of the proceedings would amount to abuse of process, ‘The evidence shows that there was no substantial publication in England and Wales, and that there was no effect on the reputation of Mr Subotic in England and Wales.‘ There was, in other words, insufficient connection to England and Wales.

This is arguably not a refusal to exercise jurisdiction otherwise held under the Brussels I Regulation (per Owusu, that would be impossible), rather, an application of procedural rules under lex fori, or indeed a forward application of the lex causae (definitely libel under common law, as defamation is exempt from the Rome II Regulation). However upon first reflection, the abuse of process route may in circumstances such as these be seen as an application of the forum non conveniens doctrine. Any thoughts of common lawyers are certainly invited!

In Karpov, the claimant was a former Russian police officer who had brought proceedings against a British based hedge fund owner and associated companies. Simon J, too, held abuse of process in this case,  holding inter alia that ‘claimant had no connection with, and had no reputation to protect within, the jurisdiction; and therefore cannot establish a real and substantial tort within the jurisdiction.’ In this case, though, none of the defendants was domiciled in the UK (Hermitage Capital Management (UK) Limited would seem to be domiciled in Guernsey, which is not part of the UK and not subject to the jurisdiction Regulation). Jurisdiction in Karpov therefore was entirely determined by English law.

Geert.

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