Metropolitan International Schools Ltd v Designtechnica Corporation
Reference:  EWHC 2411 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Tugendhat J
Date of judgment: 1 Oct 2010
Summary: Defamation - publication on the internet - damages
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David Hirst (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Eversheds LLP for Metropolitan International Schools Ltd
Between 2006 and 2009, when the material was taken off the internet, the Defendant a US-based technology website published two separate extremely lengthy internet forum discussions concerning two different educational courses marketed by C, a distance learning company. The forums ran to thousands of postings. The published material established that the contributors to the threads were based in the UK, the place where the two courses were offered. Each forum included a variety of defamatory allegations against the company and the quality of its courses, which would be presumed to damage its business. A related claim against the search engine Google for publishing snippets ot he internet forum material in the UK was resolved separately. D did not take any part in proceedings but removed the internet discussion forums when proceedings were commenced and it was served with the claim out of the jurisdiction. Default judgment was entered and the claims in relation to the two forum publications proceeded to a damages assessment.
The measure of damages that would provide vindication for the damage done to commercial reputation.
Awarding £50,000 damages in relation to two publications,
1. The Judge determined the meaning of both publications to be that C engaged in unethical sales practices, that the courses were of criminally low quality, infringed the intellectual property rights of others and were a fraud. This was the starting point to assess damages.
2. C adduced evidence of falsity, in particular that one publication alleged a course was a scam before it had been rolled out and that the courses were carefully designed by C with third party involvement so as to meet industry standards.
3. Evidence pointed to extensive publication in England and Wales over the internet.
4. Each publication was apt to deter students from enrolling, particularly because they researched the market online and the internet was C’s distance learning medium. C had continued to deal with negative PR and consumer questions caused by the publications.
This damages award was the most substantial for a corporate claimant in recent years and provided the company with some useful vindication of its corporate profile and reputation of its products. Claimant applying to have damages assessed in circumstances that judgment in default has been entered are recommended to carefully adduce evidence of damage, wide dissemination and falsity rather than rely on the presumptions in their favour.