Thursday, 27 September 2007

"I am a Spartacus order." "No, I am a Spartacus order..."

The unsavoury allegations about Alisher Usmanov have been well-publicised, by the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan among others. Nice-guy Usmanov hired nice-guy laywers Schillings to protect him, and they forced a couple of blogs to be removed from the web, hence killing the story dead. A bit. Usmanov's also (maybe) trying to buy Arsenal FC, who are now desperately backtracking, blaming the "wrong sort of millions" or somesuch.

So who are Schillings, and why did their attempt to kill a story instead cause it to mushroom? They're not inexperienced in such matters. In fact, besides claiming credit for "Hasselhoff wins apology from OK!", they also boast of past success regarding "The internet attacker". Their sob story begins:
Our client was the founder and CEO of a financial services company. An anonymous source created a website which accused our client of assault, various financial crimes and unethical behaviour.
Like most people, lawyers are of course paid to do a job, not paid to be nice, so perhaps it's unreasonable to hope that their response was to ask whether their client was guilty of assult or other "unethical" (not to say illegal) behaviour. Then maybe attempt to put his side of a complicated story, or spin the news agenda a bit? No - Schillings take the lawyer-ish way out and kill the story. As they say:
The internet is not lawless. All the laws that apply to traditional publications apply, plus new regulations have been created. In this instance we:
  • applied to Court for a "Spartacus" order requiring the source to identify himself or his ISP and webhost to identify him; and
  • contacted the host, ISP and various search engines advising them that even though the allegations had physically been posted in the US they were defamatory under UK law as they could be accessed here;
  • search engines and ISPs removed the material.
Once the source was outed and starved of the oxygen of publicity, he quickly settled to avoid a defamation claim.
But can you "out" someone and starve them of publicity at the same time? "Hey everyone! Ignore that person! That person we're pointing to over there!"

However, it is worth being reminded that "The internet is not lawless"...

Packets of tumbleweed get switched past... a man appears in a #000000 hat, riding a #000000 horse into the domain. Doors and other portals slam close and Windows are shuttered. The terrified townsfolk cower, peering out between hubs and from behind hyperlinks. Is he threatening wikivandalism? Denial of service? He sure looks mean...
'Not so fast,' says schillings.co.uk, straightening its #FFFFFF hat while cocking its gun. The man under the #000000 hat spins round, his right hand reaching for his perl-scripted revolver, but that's the last thing he ever does. Two shots ring out, the stranger pauses, frowns, then falls to the floor, his server crashing for the last time. No reboot hill for him. Schillings.co.uk mounts its #FFFFFF horse and rides into the peaceful sunset... The inevtiable comedy-drunk staggers out, leading the grateful crowds on to Main Street, shouting "Who was that stranger? He saved us all!" As if in answer, the wind whips a torn sheet of fanfold paper. The bank manager grabs it and reads out loud:
10 PRINT "I am a Spartacus order! No, "
20 GOTO 10

1 comment:

Got here from Tim Ireland's blog said...

Schillings helped open up the libel shopping market in 2005 when they managed to get their client, Roman Polanski, permission to testify by video from Paris, in an action against Vanity Fair.

Here's the outline:

Vanity Fair ran a story almost 30 years old to the effect that Mr Polanski had behaved in an untoward fashion one lunchtime in 1967.

The story got up Polanski's nose because the one day he was supposed to have done it he considered he had acted very well. He was on the way to the funeral of his murdered wife, Sharon Tate, and reckoned he had a sound memory of that day. Besides, the woman he was supposed to have spoken to declined to testify at all.

So all in all, Vanity Fair couldn't prove its case and should have just apologised and walked away. It was just the word of one hack who seemed to remember being at lunch, but it was also possible he had it confused with an entirely different lunch.

Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair's editor, dug in and acted as if he had a story of substance instead of celebrity tittle-tattle which was older than most of the magazine's readers.

To this day Carter seems incapable of grasping that Polanski was not querying any criticism of his behaviour in general, which is not exactly shining and everybody knows it. But the allegation was about one day in particular, and that event was the one which Carter could not establish.

The legal upshot was that an English court established that someone not British and not in Britain could sue an American magazine in London on the basis that it may have been read by people in the UK. Vanity Fair does have a UK edition - it tweaks the advertizing for the UK market - but its subject matter is US media, entertainment and culture.

Polanski got around £175k damages, but the legal bill for both sides ran in to millions.

Schillings rubbed their scaley paws together and went looking for egomaniac clients with more money than sense.

Whether the Schillings clients honestly think their reputations are restored to pristine condition is anyone's guess. Someone like Hasslehoff has an unrealistic idea of how much esteem and affection they attracted in the first place.

Thanks for the link to Richard Brunton. Fascinating.