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The Rindos v Hardwick case

Background

Mr William O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group does not like me. People who have had the patience to follow the full progress of this dislike, as chronicled in the CCRG Correspondence File, will be aware that I have on many occasions advised Mr O'Neill that he identifies himself every time he posts a message from a computer with a recognisable IP address. He ignored this advice and continued to send both email and newsgroups messages from several locations. He started to deny that he had sent me any messages at all and claimed that they had come from a variety of people (including me). When I again raised the matter of IP addresses he informed me that:

the burden of proof is yours.....you have have to prove who the author is.....ip addresses are not admissible in your courts.......and you have to prove your representation was not libelous......you probably still don't get it, but that's to be expected....

I asked for some evidence that IP addresses were not admissible as evidence and he replied:

here's your pointer........"Rindo vs. Harwicke" NSW Court.....judge ruled....."........ip addresses do neither confirm nor deny author and can not be admissible.......burden of proof is the defendant's to demonstrate to the court the indentity of the author and the evidence supporting the author's claim......"

I searched the relevant legal databases for the state of NSW, Australia, but could find no such case. I asked Mr O'Neill for a correct citation of the case and he replied:

the Rindo vs. Harwicke yielded a $40,000.00 punitive damage award to the claimaint plus costs which exceeded $100,000.00..............

the defendant was also ordered to cease communication on the internet or any activities which invovlved the use or operation of a computer for no less than five years.......and the best part was the defendant was an australian!.......

seems the australian courts don't take behavior like that of mr. bowditch's that lightly........

This still told me nothing, so I asked again and received:

the judgement is available....you're not looking in the right place...
and
sorry, but you can dig as we did.....not everything is on the internet....you will have to paperchase.........as it concerns rindo vs.harwicke......

At that point I stopped asking, as it was obvious that I was not going to receive a satisfactory answer.

The case is found

The actual case that Mr O'Neill was referring to has now been identified, but not everything is as Mr O'Neill would have it. Firstly, the parties to the case were Rindos and Hardwick, and it was a case in the Western Australia Supreme Court (case 1994 of 1993). Briefly, Dr David Rindos was employed by the University of Western Australia and was refused tenure. Mr Gil Hardwick made some comments on a Usenet newsgroup (sci.anthropology) that suggested that Dr Rindos was a paedophile and was not competent at his job. Hardwick refused to withdraw the remarks, and Justice Ipp found him guilty of defamation. Damages of $40,000 were awarded. The complete wording of the judgment can be found here.

Quite apart from the mistakes about the names of the parties and the jurisdiction of the judgment, there is no mention in the judgment of IP addresses. The section quoted above by Mr O'Neill appears nowhere in the judgment, nor does any proscription of Hardwick's use of the Internet or any computer equipment. The only reference in the judgment which could be interpreted in any way to refer to IP addresses was where Ipp J said "According to the material supplied by the defendant to the computer, it was transmitted by him from a computer in Derby, Western Australia. The distribution was to "the world", which means that the message was visible, and would have been able to have been read, on every computer around the world able to receive the science anthropology news bulletin". If anything, this would seem to imply that the machine address passed on by the computer was an acceptable form of identification, although it was irrelevant in this case because the identity of the parties was not in dispute, and, in fact, the defendant did not appear and offered no defence.

Ramifications of the case

This was a conventional defamation case only made noteworthy because it was possibly the first case to arise out of a claimed defamation on the Internet, although it does raise questions about what people can say where and what constitutes a public space. I have several times advised Mr O'Neill that he should consult a lawyer if he wants to threaten legal action or frighten me with the law in any other way. Had he done so in this instance, he would not only have been spared the embarrassment of getting the names and jurisdiction wrong and of incorrectly quoting from the judgment, but he might also have been advised of a potential danger to himself from citing this case as a precedent in any perceived dispute between the two of us.

The defamation published by Hardwick included suggestions that Rindos was a paedophile who could not do his job properly. Mr O'Neill has suggested, through the device of rhetorical questions, that I am a child abuser and have a criminal record. He has also both implied and stated outright that I do not manage my business properly and may even be bankrupt as a result. He has published these statements on Usenet, the same medium as used by Hardwick. While I have no intention of taking any legal action against Mr O'Neill, it would seem to me that, should I do so, Rindos v Hardwick would provide much more comfort to me than it would to Mr O'Neill.


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