A director of Sheffield Wednesday football club has won a court order that compels the owner of the owlstalk fansite to reveal the identity of Wednesday fans who he claimed were behind a “sustained campaign of vilification”.
The club’s lawyers wanted the judge to order the release of 11 names, but Richard Parkes QC ruled that some, whose postings were either clearly meant to be jokes or abusive but not libellous, should retain their anonymity.
However, three fans who the court identified as using the site to make allegations of greed, selfishness, untrustworthiness and dishonest behaviour, did not escape.
In making his ruling the judge claimed the directors’ right to protect their reputations took precedent over the fans’ right to privacy.
Dominic Bray of K&L Gates, Sheffield Wednesday’s solicitors, says that people posting on website forums and chat rooms do not have carte blanche to say what they like. “The internet is no different to any other place of publication, and if somebody is making defamatory comments about people then they should be held responsible for it,” he tells the Guardian. “What these cases do is just confirm that’s the law – the law applies to the internet as much as it does to anything else.”