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Soccer Brings Benchmark Internet Libel Case

Soccer Brings Benchmark Internet Libel CaseFreedom of speech on the Internet has been a contentious beast. Can you say what you like? In some countries, definitely not. But Britain has a long, venerable tradition of free speech. Surelyit’s possibly to voice your opinions, however inflammatory they may be, there?   Apparently not, and the case revolves on a fan forum for the soccer team Sheffield Wednesday, which hasn’t been having a great season on the pitch. That’s brought criticism on the form Owlstalk, and that, in turn, has brought the ire of the club.   They were so angry that they took the site owner, Neil Hargreaves, to court, accusing him andseveral of those who posted comments of defamatory remarks.   The case was heard last week. Judge Richard Parkes, QC, ruled that Hargreaves wasn’t responsible for comments posted on hissite. However, he was told to reveal the identity of four posters who go by the user names "halfpint", "Ian", "Vaughan" and "DJ Mortimer," and who could facefurther action from the club.   But it was only a partial victory for Wednesday. They’d wanted to names of 11 posters, but the judge rated a number of the comments as “far fromserious.”   "It seems to me that some of the postings . . . border on the trivial," he wrote in his judgment. "I do not think that it would be right to make an order for thedisclosure of the identities of users who have posted messages which are barely defamatory or little more than abusive, or likely to be understood as jokes."   In the long term, the rulingcan have interesting implications for those posting on forums, bloggers and others. Britain has strict libel laws, and yet it also has very strict data protection laws. As the Wednesday Four wonderwhat will happen to them next, the British legal community is also pondering the fallout of what seems like a simple decision.