Friday, August 08, 2008

Fake Facebook profile case - Full decision now available

Remember the libel action brought by a businessman against a former friend who created a false Facebook profile under his name? The full text of that decision is now available on BAILII as Applause Store Productions Ltd and Firsht v. Raphael. The bulk of the decision is unremarkable and deals with the (unconvincing) attempts by the defendant to deny that he was responsible for creating the page, but there are some interesting comments showing how judges are putting a figure on damages where material is only available for a short period of time to a relatively small number of people:
Ultimately, I have to approach the question of damages in the same way as a jury would, giving a verdict without a reasoned judgment. I bear in mind, of course, that the profile and group were only available on Facebook between 19th/20th June and 6th July 2007, when Facebook appears to have taken the material down at Mr Firsht's request. Given the times when the material was put up and taken down, that is a period of 17 days (for the profile) and 16 days (for the group). I bear in mind also the limited extent of proved publication, but I accept that Facebook is a medium in which users do regularly search for the names of others whom they know, and anyone who searched for the name Mathew Firsht during those few days will have found the false group without difficulty. In my view, a not insubstantial number of people is likely to have done so. By that I have in mind a substantial two-figure, rather than a three-figure, number. I also accept that the Defendant has increased the hurt and upset of Mr Firsht by the allegations which he rashly made in his original Defence and by his persistence in a defence which I have founded to be built on lies, which has compelled Mr Firsht to give evidence and face lengthy cross-examination in a public trial.

The libel is, as Ms Skinner rightly said, not at the top end of the scale, although it is serious enough to say of a successful businessman that (as I have found the words to mean) he owes substantial sums of money which he has repeatedly avoided paying by lying and making implausible excuses, so that he is not to be trusted in the financial conduct of his business and represents a serious credit risk. I do take into account also the effect on Mr Firsht of the unpleasant allegations against him which the Defendant made in his original Defence, and the fact that the Defendant has persisted to trial in a case which I have found to be no more than a lie. It seems to me that a proper award for the libel of Mr Firsht, to include an element for aggravation of damage, is £15,000. The pleaded meaning in the case of the company - against which the allegations of debt and dishonest prevarication are not directly made - is just the consequential meaning, that as a result of Mr Firsht's conduct the company is not to be trusted in the financial conduct of its business and represents a serious credit risk. It seems to me that a substantially lower award should be made in respect of the company, and in my judgment the right figure is £5,000.

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