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CNET News.com: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ON THE INTERNET

By Alfred Donovan
Posted on: March 25, 2006, 3:28 PM PST
Story: Net defamation suit leads to libel award (see below)
One expert has predicted that as a result of the decision in the Keith-Smith libel case companies will now try to shut down “suck sites” also known as “gripe sites”.
This would be a huge backward step because in my humble opinion the internet is the most important development in freedom of expression in my lifetime. It provides a low cost platform for anyone, even of modest means, to reach a global audience. It is the high-tech equivalent of having a soap box at “Speakers Corner” in London’s Hyde Park – that long-established bastion of free speech. The net gives ordinary mortals lucky enough to live in open societies the opportunity to publicly criticise the rich and powerful of this world.
I speak with some authority as I own and operate the world’s ultimate “gripe” website – (Royal Dutch Shell Plc .com). Shell International Petroleum Company issued proceedings via the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2005 in an unsuccessful attempt to seize my Shell related domain names. The domain names included the top level domain names for their new $223 billion USD parent company, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and for the entire Group: Royal Dutch Shell Group. Shell came unstuck in those proceedings and I retain and use all three Shell domains in question. I won the case on a unanimous verdict by a three person panel.
Basically the WIPO panel decided that it is legally permissible to use a domain name even if it is identical to the name of a targeted company, provided the gripe site is operated on a non commercial basis. Of course this is subject to the domain registrations being available. By a fluke my Shell domain names were available. Out of the three best top level domain names relating to Shell – Shell.com, RoyalDutchShellPlc.com and RoyalDutchShellGroup.com – I own two and Shell owns one. This puts me in a wonderful position to embarrass Shell management.
The power of the internet has put me, a veteran of the second world war (89 next month), in a position to take on in a global arena one of the world’s largest multinational goliaths, the Royal Dutch Shell Group which operates in more than 140 countries and territories and employs more than 112,000 people.
I operate two sites each utilising one of the above domain names. They now contain over 9,000 pages of information about Shell, including leaked Shell internal documents and communications plus Shell insider revelations and thousands of news articles.
My son and I have assisted a number of parties who contacted us, including the WWF (the World Wildlife Fund), The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the New York lawyers Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz, LLP acting for the lead Plaintiffs in a U.S. class action lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell plc (and others) in respect of the Shell reserves scandal.
The World Wild Life Fund, U.S. PIRG and the ECCR all appealed through the medium of my websites for Shell shareholders to support resolutions to be put to Shell shareholders at the inaugural Royal Dutch Shell Plc AGM in May 2006. The ECCR was successful in recruiting more than the required 100 shareholders as a result of its various appeals for support and the relevant resolution has been accepted by Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
With regard to the class action, Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz has confirmed that my website successfully generated a shareholder, Mr Peter M Wood, to act as a representative of all non-U.S. Shell shareholders in the class action. As a result, a motion has been filed with the appropriate U.S. District Court.
Do I have the attention of Shell senior management? Absolutely!
A Shell whistleblower, Dr John Huong, a former Shell geologist of 29 years standing is currently the subject of a High Court Injunction and Restraining Order collectively obtained by EIGHT Royal Dutch Shell companies in respect of articles posted under his name on my website. Shell served “NOTICE TO SHOW CAUSE” proceedings against him on 15 March 2006 for alleged contempt of court in respect of alleged “persistent internet postings” on my site, with a potential penalty of imprisonment or fine.
A further indicator that I have Shell management well and truly rattled is that I am in possession of an internal email between three top people at Royal Dutch Shell, including its Chief Executive Officer, Mr Jeroen van der Veer, which fell into my hands. It contains a discussion concerning my activities and mentions a plan which is activated whenever I contact anyone, so your Editor can expect to hear from Shell if you post my comments!
For anyone interested in why I have a gripe against Shell, or to learn more about the WIPO decision, or Shell’s case against Dr Huong, you are cordially invited to visit www.royaldutchshellplc.com
http://news.com.com/5208-1030-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=15271&messageID=129405&start=-1
RELATED ARTICLE
Net defamation suit leads to libel award
By Graeme Wearden
Special to CNET News.com
Published: March 23, 2006, 7:41 AM PST
Michael Keith Smith of the U.K. Independence Party has become the latest person to win substantial damages after being defamed on the Internet.
Smith brought the case against Tracy Williams after she posted a series of derogatory remarks about him on an online discussion board run by Yahoo. Williams has been ordered to pay more than $29,500 (17,000 pounds) after being found guilty of libel.
The accusations, which included claims that Smith was a racist and guilty of sexual offenses, were made as part of an online discussion about the Iraq war in 2003.
Smith had argued in favor of the conflict, which prompted Williams to label him a “lard brain” and later to falsely claim that he had sexually harassed a colleague.
Williams' remarks were made under a pseudonym, and in 2004, Smith obtained a court order forcing Yahoo to reveal the identity of the poster. He then brought his case to the High Court, claiming that Williams had continued to abuse him online.
Judge Alistair MacDuff, who heard the case, ordered Williams to pay Smith $17,365 (10,000 pounds) in damages and never again to repeat the remarks, which he described as “seriously defamatory.” Williams, who did not file a defense, must also pay 7,200 pounds in court costs.
Legal experts have suggested that Smith's victory could encourage other people to file libel lawsuits.
A landmark case in 2000, Godfrey v. Demon, established that statements posted online were not beyond the reach of the law, and this case looks to have set a similarly important precedent.
Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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