izz0 writes: In a move that could set a nasty precedent for Australian website operators and their users, a software firm is suing a community website over comments published on its message board. The firm, 2Clix, is suing the owner of the popular broadband community site Whirlpool, Simon Wright, for "injurious falsehood", asking for $150,000 in damages and an injunction requiring Whirlpool to remove forum threads highly critical of 2Clix's accounting software. Dale Clapperton, chairman of the online users lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said 2Clix was using the law to silence its critics. He said if Wright lost "it might mean the end of criticising companies' products and services online", as "any company will be able to demand that people's criticisms of them be deleted off websites, and if they don't comply they'll sue". Amanda Stickley, a senior law lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, said if 2Clix won there would be severe consequences for website operators as they would have to be "very vigilant in checking material on the website and remove anything that could cause injury to someone's business reputation". In a statement of claim filed with the Supreme Court of Queensland, 2Clix said the comments, published in two threads between between late last year and July this year, led it to sustain "a severe downturn in monthly sales". It specifically referenced more than 30 comments by Whirlpool users, many strongly advising people to avoid the software at all costs and complaining that advertised features were not actually available in the product. One of the comments cited by 2Clix read: "The software became such a problem that we threw it out recently
... We stuck with it for over two years but in the end the many hundreds of lost hours of work and high stress levels was not worth it."
2Clix claimed the statements were both false and malicious, and said it contacted Whirlpool about the matter this year but Whirlpool refused to take the forum threads down.
Wright did not respond to requests for comment, while a 2Clix spokesman this morning declined to comment.
But Stickley said it would be very difficult for 2Clix to successfully sue Wright for injurious falsehood over comments made by Whirlpool users.
It would have to prove the statements were false, that they were made in malice, that 2Clix actually suffered damage in the form of monetary loss and, critically, that Wright had intended to cause 2Clix monetary loss by allowing the material to remain on the website.
"I don't think you could actually prove that for a web operator, that they personally intended the damage because of their malicious intention, especially when it's posted by a third party that they've got no relationship to," Stickley said.