Toronto Mike

Brian Burke's Defamation Lawsuit: My Unique Perspective

Brian Burke's Defamation Lawsuit Has Me Shaking My Head

Back in January, I got a cease and desist letter from Brian Burke's lawyer on his behalf.  You can read that letter in its entirety here.

I was sent that letter because this blog was hosting an anonymous comment alleging Brian Burke had an affair with Hazel Mae.  The letter wanted me to do two things: remove the offending comment and reveal the IP address of the anonymous commenter.  I removed the comment right away and decided not to reveal the IP address.

Yesterday, Brian Burke filed a lawsuit with B.C. Supreme Court against 18 people who left similar comments on forums and blogs.  Burke doesn't know who these 18 people are, just their handles Poonerman, Sir Psycho Sexy, Slobberface, Loob, Steve, etc.  Here's a statement from Burke's lawyer Peter Gall:

Brian has decided that it is time to stop people who post comments on the Internet from thinking they can fabricate wild stories with impunity. Brian is determined to find the authors of the lie about him and those who have circulated the lie.

Back in January, when this rumour was being shared via chain emails and on forums and blogs, I dismissed it as "scandalous speculation".  Such rumours about people in the public eye are nothing new, and the complete lack of mainstream media coverage spoke volumes.  By February, the rumour had all but disappeared.

Suddenly, thanks to Burke's defamation lawsuit, the story is being widely reported by the CBC, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CTV, Toronto Sun, Canadian Press and numerous other MSM news sources.  Burke has the masses Googling for details about the rumour this morning.  In essence, Burke is now experiencing the Streisand Effect:

The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

As I write this, I am not being sued by Brian Burke.  I suspect that's because I didn't personally write about the rumour and willfully complied with the request to remove the comment.  If I hadn't removed the comment from Anonymous, would Anonymous have been a 19th person included in this lawsuit?  I have no idea.

I also have no idea how Burke will get damages from anonymous posters in online forums and blogs.  Will a judge force the website owner to cough up the IP address?  Were the IP addresses already voluntarily shared with Brian Burke's lawyer in response to a cease and desist letter like the one I got?  And we all know an IP address won't reveal the commenter, only detail about the network they used to access the web when they wrote the comment.  For example, the IP address might reveal the place where the commenter works or the commenter's ISP, but it would require a court order for the ISP to name the customer.  And what about commenters who used public wifi networks?  Or if the commenter simply jumped on a network belonging to a friend or neighbour? I have no idea how Burke can be successful here.

But one thing is certain... he's successful at making this a far bigger story than it would have been.  It had fizzled out, as such rumours always do, and the CBC, Globe and Mail and other news sources had rightfully ignored it.  But not anymore.  Now Burke's made this a very interesting story and has Canadians from coast to coast searching for more scandalous details.

I'll be watching this story closely from a rather unique perspective.  If I receive a summons, you'll read it here first.

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