Monday, December 14, 2009

Knowledgable Feedback Appreciated

... Just looking for opinions on a possible legal matter.

As a member of a chat forum, I was receiving private messages through the board's system from one of the Administrators, where she continuously talked of Forum matters, other members, other moderators, and so on. I thought this unprofessional of her at the time, but did not do anything about it.

Five months later, I was banned (by that administrator) from this public free chat forum. I had a hinky feeling I was going to be banned by her, so I made screen captures of many of the private messages she sent me, and uploaded them to a free online photo account. Again, these were her messages to ME, taken from MY inbox at this free forum.

When I was banned, I decided to let others know what goes on behind the scenes there and I published the link to my photo account (I used an old ID that I still had active on that site). That was yesterday. Today I received a message from yet another member, telling me that what I did was illegal and the corporation that owns the forum could technically sue me.

Is that true? I do not see anywhere in their Terms of Use or Codes of Conduct where it mentions a single word about who's property a Private Message is. It says posts, journal entries, and poems posted may be used by the parent company, but nothing anywhere that I have seen (in over 5 years of being a member there) about content of Private Messages.

I can see where the Administrator could be in trouble because she was telling me details of internal affairs of the forum and the parent company, but would/could I be in legal trouble for publicly posting screen shots (screen captures) of private messages that were addressed to ME?

This other member informed me that what I did was libel (which in my understanding is publishing slanderous claims ie lies) or slander (which again, would be lies) but what I posted was the actual text picture of private messages written to ME by someone else. Nothing altered in any way. I did not post the top portion of the private messages that show the name of the forum or the parent company, just the actual text and sender's name.

I have since deleted the photos and made my account private to stop any further views, but I am just looking for any knowledgable information someone out there might have when dealing with things like this on the internet. It was not an internal memo, I was just a regular joe-blow member of the forum and not an any administration team. They were private messages and while yes, I understand that is a naughty thing to do, it's more like against 'netiquette' than anything else.

Again it is a free forum, anyone can join and can view all of the forums without even signing up for a free membership. I am only concerned in finding out if this could end up being a legal matter if the PR side of the parent company owning the forum decided it was worth their time and effort to take a young mother of three to court.

**I should add that the site is American. But even after investigating more (because I did before posting them in the first place), I find virtually nothing about posting private messages sent within a chat forum, and very little on publishing private emails. For example, a lot of it talks of releasing trade secrets (nope), releasing personal contact information within those emails (no real names, email addies, addresses, etc was in them), causing a company to lose business (it's a free forum, the parent company does sell items but this forum is a very small part of their whole site, and there are several other forums in it), etc. What I did also find is that sometimes the Fair Use Act of the US comes into play if it can be proven that the items were published for commentary, criticism, news, etc. Criticism definitely fits, as well as news (aka letting others there know what was going on). I did not post anything like her home address, phone number, etc and tell people to call her and ream her out. I just posted clips of what she wrote to me directly about that forum, and members and moderators there. I also read that sometimes ISPs have clauses where they don't want people doing this, but the messages were not received in my email, they were on the forum server only.

The fellow member that told me to be careful and scared the poo out of me is actually a friend of mine, so that's why I took it more seriously than I would have if it had come from the person who's PMs I posted.


  1. If I were in your shoes... I wouldn't worry about being taken to court.

  2. You've been lied to (probably in an attempt to intimidate you). Judges have already ruled on this...emails don't qualify for the same "expectation of privacy" as other mediums, and anything sent to you becomes yours to do with as you wish.

  3. William in Ajax says...

    I agree with Andrew, you were lied to.
    Sueing someone is an expensive proposition, a free public forum has better less expensive things to do.
    If you live in Ontario, there is a free lawyer referal service, where you can talk with a real lawyer for 20 minutes and ask any questions, about your situation.
    Look in the yellow pages under lawyers and free referal.

    Or Read Ezra Levants postings on his trouble with the Human rights commissions, he is a lawyer and talks alot about what is and is NOT acceptable libel in Canada, under our real court system.

    Also, In Canada, the truth IS a defense against libel.
    Hope that helps, good luck.
    Ps You could call her bluff and say you might sue her for the same reasons.
    Afterall YOU were the one banned.

  4. Thanks. I will keep those points in mind if threat to take this further happens. As you can tell, I have no idea about this stuff lol.

    As for the threat, it was also brought up about Copyright issues. Apparently there are a few cases in the US where the author of the published emails won because it was shown that, being the author, they hold copyright on it. As in, you can't publish, copy, etc the email without their express permission.

    But I can see where the internet poses a problem for this because people are constantly forwarding jokes and notes on to others. By copyright laws, that should not be done without permission right? But it happens by the millions (minimum) every single day all around the world.

    I'm not saying what I did was right, but it's a case of the little people getting sick and tired of what the 'higher ups' are doing and the only way to prove it sometimes is to get your hands a little bit dirty - yet the good guy often comes out with the most disdain pointed in their direction, even though what they exposed is usually 100 times worse lol. Go figure eh? I got sick of being the good guy so..... here I am.

  5. Complete BS.

    You should put the pics back up and dare them to sue you.

  6. I wouldn't worry any further, either.

    Of course, not knowing the specifics of the situation, I really couldn't say anything much.

    I just hope we're not talking about someone nasty, like the CAIR or ACORN, who wouldn't want folks knowing about their internal workings... And we know they're all lawyered up and trying to hit back at those who ripped off their shirts and exposed their nipples of corruption and evil to the People.

    So as long as the folks involved aren't connected to evil like the other two just mentioned, I'd relax.

    This is why I'm undercover, not using my real identity. It helps prevent SLAPP suits such as I might otherwise have been hit with, had Warren Kinsella known how to find out who I am (I didn't fall into his trap of clicking on a "please contact me HERE" hyperlink he left in the comments thread of a post I wrote which was very critical of his attitude, but which could never have been considered in a real court of law to be defamatory, because it wasn't). The guy was really irritated that I wouldn't bother to talk to him, calling me a "New Brunswick Loon" and demanding my name, promising to "use it only once". But I know better than to mess around with folks like that, for they're nasty and dishonest.

    It'll be interesting, btw, to watch what happens with all the suits Kinsella filed against a whole bunch of bloggers. They're all B.S. suits that can't hold up, so he's really gotten himself in a pickle.



These are my views and opinions. If you don't agree or think I am sadly misguided, that is your view. Feel free to share your thoughts but I also reserve my right to moderate content (IE foul language, excessive flaming, etc).