Shropshire internet troll left counting cost over £100,000 legal bill
An internet "troll" from Shropshire was today left counting the cost after being hit with a record £100,000 legal bill for using his home computer to target an American lawyer for groundless abuse.
Jason 'Jay' Page, from Telford, reaped a legal whirlwind when he posted a wounding review on Colorado-based Timothy Bussey's Google Maps profile. The anonymous post described the US lawyer as "a scumbag" and accused him of paying for his firm's positive reviews on the web.
Beware what you write online – because it is published worldwide, says Shropshire lawyer Charlotte Clode.
It was going to happen sooner or later. And in the end, it took one comment on one social media platform, seen only by a select number of people on the other side of the pond.
But it was enough and today Jason Page of Telford has been landed with a £100,000 legal bill after being taken to court by an American lawyer.
Timothy Bussey was unhappy after Mr Page called him a "scumbag" on an internet site. He sued and won a £50,000 payout, which will be added to with legal costs.
You no longer need millions of pounds worth of printing press or broadcast transmitters to make yourself heard, or seen, by potentially millions of people.
The game has changed completely.
Having the capability for anyone to publish does not, however, change what you are allowed to publish. The law has had to begin to adapt to this new landscape, but the fundamental principles that you have to be able to substantiate what you say about someone if they contest it have not changed.
Nor is ignorance of those laws any kind of defence against being taken to court for defamation having made libellous or slanderous comments – the damage has still been done, whether you knew you could be held accountable for it or not.
Social media and self-publishing also allow the process of saying something you shouldn't to be instant, removing the time that people might previously have taken to self-censor or just take a step back from what they might have said in the heat of the moment.
Because communication is also now global, there is little or no safety in saying untrue or unpleasant things about someone on another continent, not least because communications servers are spread around the world. Your message could pass through London, Amsterdam and New York on its way to Sydney or Manilla. That can have implications for jurisdiction when it comes to legal action.
In this case, even though the comments were made in Telford and were only apparently seen in Colorado, a judge at the High Court in London has ruled on the matter in favour of the American man who was judged to have been damaged by it.
It seems likely that the only answer to this issue is greater awareness and education of the risks. People must have the right to protect their reputation, so perhaps we need to begin taking responsibility for what you say online – a topic that our young people learn from an early age. They need to know that even re-posting or 're-tweeting' something defamatory is considered to be a repeat of the original offence.
Last year alone legal cases linked to social media publishing rose by 300 per cent on the previous year. There is every expectation that this is only going to escalate unless, and until, people start to learn what is and is not acceptable and dangerous to their own wallet – or even their liberty.
* Charlotte Clode is an Associate Solicitor with Shropshire law firm FBC Manby Bowdler.
Mr Bussey was left fuming by the anonymous post, which seemed to be from a dissatisfied client and stated to the world that "he loses 80 per cent of his cases".
The post remained live on the web for about a year and Mr Bussey and his firm, The Bussey Law Firm, suffered severe damage to their reputation.
Mr Bussey was not willing to let the matter rest and, at huge expense, employed a Californian law firm to subpoena Google's records to find out who was responsible.
That led him to the door of Mr Page, aged in his 20s, who was living with his parents in Sutton Hill, Telford, and yesterday ended up on the receiving end of a full-scale High Court libel case – around £100,000.
He insisted that he bore no responsibility for the post and that his Google account must have been hacked by someone else. He said that a hacker might have been seeking revenge for something he had done as a 'moderator' of the www.reddit.com website.
However, Sir David Eady said hacking into Mr Page's account would have been challenging, with the perpetrator needing to bypass passwords and sophisticated security.
There was no indication that anyone held a grudge against him and the judge described the hacking explanation as "extremely improbable".
The "overwhelming probability" was that Mr Page had either authored the post himself or authorised it.
The judge added: "Why Mr Page should himself choose to attack Mr Bussey and his firm is unclear, but the most likely explanation would appear to be a purely financial one."
Taking into account the "grapevine effect" on the internet, the judge had no doubt that the post had caused serious damage to Mr Bussey and his firm's good name. He ordered Mr Page to pay £50,000 damages, along with Mr Bussey's legal costs. He must pay £50,000 of those on account, pending final assessment of the costs bill.
There was no response from the family home in Sutton Hill yesterday.
However, Page's mother Nathalie said on the phone that she did not have a number for her son and denied knowledge of the case.
Mr Bussey's solicitor, Will Richmond-Coggan, said later: "This is a great result for our clients.
Shropshire legal expert Charlotte Clode said: "The boundaries of what is going too far in online posting in the eyes of the courts may become slightly more clear with time and this judgement will contribute towards that, giving some precedent for other others judges and juries to work with.
"Now there is a verdict and huge costs and damages awarded to the plaintiff. Jason Page is either going to have to pay or find the means to appeal. That's a tremendous cost for what were probably unnecessary and ill-considered words that did their damage with a simple press of the 'enter' key.
"Their reputations have at last been vindicated following this calculated attack through the medium of an online review site."