They that live by the law, die by the internet

Just a quick note, because it's late and I've just written an 1100 words post on electoral reform.

But, courtesy of Danyl Mclauchlan's epic take-down, I learnt of Colin Craig's decision to threaten defamation proceedings against a relatively recently created satire website "The Civilian". The offending part of the relevant post was this "quote" (which, it really need not be said, is not real and entirely intended for satiric effect):

“Williamson likes to talk about big gay rainbows,” said Craig, “but it would help if he understood what the rainbow actually means. After Noah’s flood, God painted a giant rainbow across the sky, which was a message that he would never again flood the world, unless we made him very angry. And we have.”

Including this not real and entirely intended for satiric effect quote then earned the website's "editor" a letter from Craig's lawyers, Chapman Tripp. The said letter claims that this not real and entirely intended for satiric effect quote defames Craig, and states that:

"If you wish to avoid being served with defamation proceedings, you should remove this Statement immediately and permanently from your webpage, but in any event by no later than 4pm today, 23 April 2013."

It then goes on to demand the website publish an apology to Craig and provide him with a written retraction, as well as $500 towards Craig's legal costs.

I have but two things to say about this.

First of all, do you think that Craig might be a bit over-sensitive about how others see him – and is this a good thing in someone who is wanting to lead a new political movement into Parliament?

Second of all, I hope whomsoever it was at Chapman Tripp that advised Mr Craig about his legal options also drew his attention to the Streisand Effect. Because I think that the next few days are going to see it operating in full force.

UPDATE: Apparently Mr Craig has withdrawn the defamation threat. In a statement, Mr Craig stated:

"In accordance with a message passed to me by Melisandre from the Lord of Light, also known as R'hllor or the Red God, I have instructed my solicitors at Chapman Tripp to withdraw my threat of proceedings. However, I give fair warning. Henceforth I shall sally forth in person to meet on the field of battle all those who would mock me, and shall not rest until their dead bodies lie in mounds before me, their blood laps at the shores of my feet, and I sit in my rightful place atop the Iron Throne."

(Please note - the existence of quotation marks should not be understood to indicate that the above is a true and accurate reflection of either the words or beliefs of Mr Craig.)

Comments (10)

by Tim Watkin on April 23, 2013
Tim Watkin

It's a pretty high threshold to defame a politician... Wonder what would have happened if there'd been the internet back in the day when McPhail and Gadsby were sued for a satirical sketch... Hamish Keith, wasn't it?

by Chris de Lisle on April 24, 2013
Chris de Lisle

Does Colin Craig count as a politician? ... legally, I mean 

by Dan Knox on April 24, 2013
Dan Knox

Well Chris the fact that he has intent is damning enough for me.

by Cushla McKinney on April 26, 2013
Cushla McKinney

Since this is not the only quote attributed to Mr Craig by The Civilian - see also:

“It is a sad and infamous day for this nation,” said Craig to a group of reporters outside Parliament this evening. “Our country has plunged itself into a dark moral abyss from which it will never return. By providing legal rights to people who like the wrong genitalia, we have sent a terrible message to our children and our peers about the role of dignity and faith in our society. If we are to say that it is acceptable for marriage to be between two men, or two women, or two man-woman hybrids, then what is to say that marriage cannot be between a man and a turtle, or a man and a table? What about a woman and a gorilla? That’s pretty disgusting.”  

from the article "Marriage Destroyed Forever", can we assume his lack of action on this one means he endorses it?

by Cushla McKinney on April 26, 2013
Cushla McKinney

I mean my above post to be ironic, and by no means intend to impune Mr Craig or imply the quote is a true and accurate reflection of his views.  I am merely pointing out the difficulties in trying to stem a satiric tide.

by Ali Romanos on April 26, 2013
Ali Romanos

@ Chris de Lisle -- yes, as someone aspiring for national office, Mr Craig is a "politician" for defamation purposes. As such, it is likely The Civilian's statement would have been subject to, among others, a qualified privilege defence.

by Simon Nathan on April 26, 2013
Simon Nathan

The letter from Chapman Tripp raises uncomfortable questions in my mind about intimidation. Is it really very different from sending round the Mongrel Mob? To me the letter suggests that the recipient is being pursued by a powerful organisation with a long reach – you had better desist or we will help put you out of business. I would be interested to know what you teach your students about the ethics of this sort of situation, Andrew. Or do you not regard it as an ethical question, and its just the way that lawyers behave?

by Ali Romanos on April 27, 2013
Ali Romanos

@ Simon Nathan -- in terms of the ethical threshold, ask yourself whether the letter falls on the wrong side of the line:

Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008

Proper purpose
2.3    A lawyer must use legal processes only for proper purposes. A lawyer must not use, or knowingly assist in using, the law or legal processes for the purpose of causing unnecessary embar­rassment, distress, or inconvenience to another person’s repu­tation, interests, or occupation.

Was the letter of demand sent for "proper purposes"? I think so. As such, if Mr Craig actually felt defamed, surely he's entitled to instruct solicitors to send a strongly worded letter. Therefore, aren't the lawyers just doing their job?

Now, of course, as Steven Price and co. have pointed out, Mr Craig's case would have been a weak one -- it is likely the words weren't defamatory--they had no sting--and authors at The Standard would have had various defences available to them to defend a claim. Given that, I think it is equally likely if Mr Craig had actually pursued litigation, the authors (if they had effective representation!) would have had a strong case for summary judgment -- basically, they could have shown none of Mr Craig's claims had any substance, and the case would have been dismissed before even going to trial.  

In this regard, I'm not fussed with the letter -- it's a good thing that if you are defamed, you can (theoretically) hire effective representation to assert your rights.

To me, the wider issue is one of equality -- that Mr Craig, with his significant personal resources, is so much more easily able to defend his legal rights than someone equally, if not more seriously, defamed, but less well off.

by Andrew Geddis on April 27, 2013
Andrew Geddis

 I would be interested to know what you teach your students about the ethics of this sort of situation, Andrew. Or do you not regard it as an ethical question, and its just the way that lawyers behave?

I don't actually teach legal ethics ... but I'd imagine the answer someone who does teach the subject would give is pretty much along the lines of Ali's.

It is worth noting, of course, that Craig's decision to let the lawyers off their leash will have cost him a few hundred dollars (sure - he can afford it, but still it's money gone from his account), achieved very little (The Civilian didn't remove the quote at issue, and it is still "quoting" him in its stories), while making him something of a laughing stock to the wider public. So ... an object lesson that even if you can afford a lawyer, they aren't always the best solution to your "problem".

by DeepRed on May 01, 2013

There's precedent with the Falwell vs Hustler lawsuit during the 1980s, where the SCotUS eventually threw it out.

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