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Christopher Carrie v Royd Tolkien

15 January 2009, Queen's Bench Division, England

The claimant maintained (and controlled) a "blog" under a pseudonym and the blog "appears to be used largely for the promotion of his self-published book" (in which he alleged that he suffered abuse when he was a child some 50 years ago in the hands of a deceased member of the Tolkien family, which allegation was irrelevant to the proceedings).

The claimant made a posting under his pseudonym on 6 February 2007 and purported to be "a Tolkien fan who had stumbled across his own book and enjoyed it" (the claimant "was at pains to point out that people on blogs very often assume a persona different from their own and this does not necessarily imply any intention to deceive").

The claimant's posting provoked a number of comments, one of which came from the defendant, made at 11:22 am on 24 February 2007, which alleged, among other things (there were worse allegations about criminal record and lies about sexual abuse), the claimant was a "struggling IT worker" and revealed his address.

The record showed that the claimant (who had controlled of his blog) went into the blog and deleted his address revealed by the defendant (but not other contents of the offending comments complained of).

The judge, Eady J, ruled that, as the claimant was in control of the blog, at least from the point when he discovered the defendant's comment, he could have removed the comments and since he did not, he acquiesced in the continued publication even if he said he only allowed the posting to remain so as to put the original posting "in context" and that he reported the posting to the local police.

As to the relatively brief period before the claimant discovered the posting (probably not more than 4 hours and 19 minutes), there is no assumption in law that placing material on the internet leads to automatically to a substantial publication: Al Amoudi v Brisard [2001] 1 WLR 113 and it is not sufficient to allege the posting has been accessed by a "large but unquantifiable number of readers".

The defence submitted that "there is no basis for concluding that there was, over the short period in question, the commission of a real and substantial tort such as to justify the deployment of the court's resources".

The judge said that, because of the "minimal level of publication", the case would appear to be a suitable a case to be classified as an abuse of process in accordance with the doctrine laid down in Jameel (Yousef) v Dow Jones Inc [2005] QB 946 (and cf. e.g. Steinberg v Pritchard Englefield [2005] EWCA Civ 288).

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