Online defamation: A case study in competing rights
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communications and Contemporary Arts
On September 3rd 2003, the Supreme Court of Western Australia awarded Dr Trevor Cullen $95,000 in damages for defamatory statements that appeared on a number of websites published by the defendant, Bill White (Cullen v White (2003) WASC 153). Despite the Court’s finding of false imputations arising from defamatory words published on the Internet, and acknowledgment of the very great damage caused to Dr Cullen, many of the defamatory web sites can still be accessed on the Internet over 12 months after the judgment. Seen in this light, it would appear that the law of defamation, when applied to an online situation, has failed to provide any concrete protection or relief to Dr Cullen.This paper seeks to highlight the fundamental difficulties Australian plaintiffs face in achieving a satisfactory outcome in cross-jurisdictional online defamation cases, as experienced by Dr Cullen. In doing so, four key areas will be examined: the relationship between freedom of expression and the Internet, with particular reference to online defamation; an overview of the circumstances leading up to an including the court action taken by Dr Cullen (Cullen v White); defamation law as it has been applied to selected online defamation cases in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States; and alternative online remedies undertaken by Dr Cullen.