31 May Finding the Reviewer of Defamatory or False Reviews
Finding the Reviewer of Defamatory or False Reviews
In this day and age, the world is rapidly becoming information data driven. Information sharing platforms are common and allows individuals to post their reviews on the internet for potential customers to see. One prime example of this is the Google Reviews system. On Google Reviews, anyone who has a registered account with Google can provide a review. Some businesses rely heavily on these reviews as a method of advertisement to the general public.
Unfortunately, some individuals use these types of information sharing platforms for vindictive purposes. Some set out to actively destroy the reputation of firms using this process. Below is an outline of a case we were engaged to act for a client which involved alleged false defamatory material in the form of a google review.
Our client (the prospective applicant) received a bad google review from an account which used a name that was not identified as one of their clients. When it was put to the author of the google review that they were not a client the account holder did not respond. Our client considered the material defamatory and sought the true identity of the account holder in order to commence defamation proceedings against them.
How to Discover the Identity of the Account Holder
We advised our client to apply to the Federal Court for an order for preliminary discovery of the identity of the account holder.
In order to achieve preliminary discovery our client had to satisfy the following criteria:
- There may be a right to obtain relief from the prospective respondent (Google); and
- The prospective applicant is unable to determine the identity of the account holder after reasonable enquiries; and
- The prospective respondent knows or is likely to know the identity of the account holder or be in possession of documentation that is likely assist in the identification of the account holder.
What the Court said about the Discovery
The Court agreed our client had an arguable case based on the evidence that was offered. Our client had no records of engagement with the named account holder. Numerous letters were written to Google Australia and Google in the U.S.A. requesting the identity of the account holder, however Google was not forthcoming with the information, forcing our client to make an application to the Court. Moreover, Google had records pertaining to the IP address of the login of the account holder and registration information of the account holder.
Service of the Documents
As the records of the account holders are held by Google LLC, a company based in the U.S.A. an order from the Court had to be sought allowing our client to serve the application outside Australia. As the U.S.A. is a member of the Hague Convention, we sought to apply the rules of service under article 10(a) of the Hague Service Convention.
The Hague Service Convention allows service of these types of applications through registered postal channels, the judge noting, “service of documents by international registered post is compliant with Art. 10(a), this Court having granted leave on a number of previous occasions for service in that manner”. A US Supreme Court (Water Splash Inc v Menon 581 U.S. (2017) case also notes the Hague Service Convention does not prohibit service by international post.
It is important to note that other large US firms that present these information sharing platforms may also be served in the same way. Orders were made in favour of our client, requiring Google to disclose the IP address and registration information pertaining to the account holder in order for potential defamation proceedings to commence.
Should you require assistance with your litigation matter, please give us a call for a free assessment. Our contact details are:
 Water Splash Inc v Menon 581 U.S. (2017) at 12
Berrigan Doube Lawyers
Melbourne: (03) 9600 2577
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