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    Comments about Firms, Traders, Products and Persons - A users guide

    This guide has been produced by a Club Member who is also a Lawyer, and is designed to keep Forum members the right side of the law, and the Moderators.


    COMMENTS ABOUT FIRMS, TRADERS AND PRODUCTS, AND PERSONS


    This is a very contentious area as businesses are naturally protective of their reputations. Be aware that they could take legal action against the Forum or individuals on the grounds of DEFAMATION

    Defamatory Statements

    Publication - Person

    If you post something on the Forum that adversely affects a person’s reputation you may be defaming them. It is important to note that the statement must cause or be likely to cause serious harm to the reputation. Some may be surprised at this additional requirement, but it is to stop frivolous cases from being brought to Court.


    Publication – Company

    If you post something on the Forum that harms the reputation of a company, you may be defaming the company, however again the publication must cause or be likely to cause serious financial loss before it is deemed to be defamatory. Again, a high hurdle.

    Meanwhile we suggest:

    Overall, use common sense. If someone else on the Forum said what you are about to say – would you be offended? The age-old adage still applies – if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.

    Your Opinion - You can give your opinion on products and services as long as they are your opinion, are true and others would hold that opinion if in possession of the facts. However…

    Be fair – If you are disappointed with a product or service, make sure you tell the trader and give them a chance to make it good.

    If it is provable faulty product (and not faulty installation) post it on the Forum to ensure others get the benefit of your discovery. Our cars are vulnerable and delicate and don’t deserve faulty parts.


    Policy Document 'Defamation- A User Guide to the Forum'.

    You should ensure that your post meets the standards in the Policy Document

    'Defamation- A User Guide to the Forum'.

    Moderators, as informed lay-persons, may place a posting in Moderation pending consideration prior to approving it for publication.

    Posts of this nature must only be made in the

    SOC Members Business Forum.
    Defamation – A User Guide for the Forum




    Quick Summary

    The Forum is here to inform and assist Club members in the care and use of their Triumph Stags


    Defamatory Statements


    Publication - Person

    If you post something on the Forum that adversely affects a person’s reputation you may be defaming them. It is important to note that the statement must cause or be likely to cause serious harm to the reputation. Some may be surprised at this additional requirement, but it is stop frivolous cases from being brought to Court.

    Publication – Company

    If you post something on the Forum that harms the reputation of a company, you may be defaming the company, however again the publication must cause or be likely to cause serious financial loss before it is deemed to be defamatory. Again, a high hurdle.


    Defences

    Truthabsolute defence. If it’s true, you can say it.

    Honest Opinion – must be a statement of opinion (‘In my opinion…’). It must be based on true facts and it must be that a reasonable and honest person could hold that opinion based on the facts.

    Examples
    1. I installed a product and it failed after 1 week’ = Fine, as long as it’s true and it’s not a product designed to last one week. However, be careful. Make sure that the failure of the product is due to the product itself failing and not your installation!
    2. I used Jeff at Jeff’s Garage and he installed inferior parts that caused my engine to fail’. Fine, as long as you can prove all these elements are true:
    3. You used Jeff.
    4. Jeff installed inferior parts.
    5. The parts are objectively provable to be ‘inferior’.
    6. The inferior parts are directly responsible (in part or in total) for the engine failure.
    1. In my opinion, replacement parts made by Jeff’s Company are poor’. Risky. Be careful with generalisations. It’s your opinion, but make sure it’s based on true facts and that others would hold the same opinion if faced with the same facts. Can you really be sure ALL Jeff’s parts are poor?
    1. In my opinion, the cylinder head made by Jeff is poor because it was warped and would not install properly.’ Fine – objectively provable that it is warped. Remember, it must actually be warped!
    1. Jeff installed parts for me and although they work fine, I will never use him again as he is rude and I think he is cooking his books’. Likely defamatory. You are alleging fraud and personal attributes that are not easily objectively proven.
    1. Jeff is an ass and his company rips everyone off.’ Defamatory. Likely to cause serious harm to Jeff’s reputation.



    Real Life Examples
    1. Bernie Ecclestone – Surprisingly his private life activities did not meet the threshold of ‘likely to cause serious harm’ so it was not defamatory.
    2. Charlotte Church - The singer Charlotte Church complained of an article in The People entitled ‘Marry-oke’, which described how she had proposed to her boyfriend during a “boozy pub karaoke night”. The article was false (she wasn’t even in the pub that night) and the article was found to be defamatory.
    3. Solicitorsfromhell.co.uk - In this case, the claimant, a firm of solicitors, only showed that they had lost one client. The judge was willing to accept that as a small law firm with high value instructions, the loss of one client showed a likelihood of serious financial loss. The judge also considered the effect of the search results in Google, which brought up the claimant firm in the context of the solicitorsfromhelluk.com website in the top five results, and this led the judge to consider the likely effect of this on potential clients who decided not to instruct the firm, although they did not notify the firm to that effect
    4. Monroe v Hopkins - Here the Court awarded Ms Monroe 24,000 in damages in the context of defamatory tweets which meant that she "condoned and approved of scrawling on war memorials and vandalising monuments commemorating those who fought for her freedom". The Court held that the tweets had caused, or were likely to cause, Ms Monroe serious harm because they would "have a tendency to cause harm to this claimant's reputation in the eyes of third parties, of a kind that would be serious for her".

    In Depth Background to Defamation


    The term "defamation" covers the old-school terms libel and slander. Both concern the publication of defamatory material, that is, something that adversely affects a person's reputation. The distinction between the two is that libel concerns "lasting" forms of publication such as print, online or broadcasting. Slander concerns more transient forms such as spoken words.


    For this guide, we will focus on libel as that is the most likely form of defamation to affect Forum users.


    Some Legal points, in plain language

    The person who feels they have been wronged must establish that the words complained of are defamatory of him or her. It is important to note that there is no single, definitive interpretation of what constitutes a ‘defamatory statement’. Generally speaking, assessment usually used by judges is:

    “…whether the statement tends to lower the claimant (the person who has allegedly been defamed) in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally or is likely to affect a person adversely in the estimation of reasonable people generally.”

    Critically, a statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant. Harm to the reputation of a body that trades for profit (ie a company) is not "serious harm" unless it has caused or is likely to cause the body serious financial loss.

    As you can see from the above, the threshold is surprisingly high for a statement to be deemed defamatory. The purpose of the threshold of seriousness was to avoid the Courts being troubled with complaints of a trivial nature that did not truly engage rights of reputation, for example, where the publication was of limited extent or was in the nature of abuse or tittle-tattle. See real-life examples at the end of this guide.

    As mentioned above, the ability to sue for defamation is not limited to natural persons, but also applies to companies. While such entities obviously cannot sue for injury to their feelings, they have their business reputations to protect. The “serious financial loss” requirements above will restrict the ability of companies to sue for defamation.



    Defences

    For our purposes, there are two main defences to defamation.

    Truth

    It is an absolute defence to a defamation claim to show that a defamatory statement is true. The rationale for the defence is that a claimant should not be entitled to recover damages for injury to a reputation he did not deserve to have in the first place (!).


    Honest Opinion

    The defence formerly known as “fair comment” is now the defence of honest opinion.


    The defence is potentially available if three conditions are met:
    1. The statement complained of was a statement of opinion.
    2. The statement indicated, whether in general or specific terms, the basis of the opinion. The opinion must be based on true facts
    3. An honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of any fact that existed at the time the statement complained of was published.



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