Domainz has now funded both sides of defamation case
- 27 May, 2001 22:00
A special general meeting appears to have defused ill-feeling between the Internet Society (ISOCNZ) hierarchy and its membership. The meeting, held on Friday evening, was called to discuss Domainz’s funding of its former chief Patrick O’Brien’s defamation action against society member Alan Brown. However, there remains the possibility of an impending suit by O’Brien against Domainz, the ISOCNZ-owned company which manages the .nz internet name space, for failing to take further action on the alleged defamation. The society agreed at the SGM that it should support Domainz meeting Brown’s legal costs to date and awarding him a small amount of additional compensation. Brown accepted and apologised for his original allegedly defamatory statement. Domainz has now ceased funding O'Brien's side of the case. After the meeting, Brown told Computerworld he was pleased with the result, though it clearly still did not finally solve his problems. The defamation action has already been heard in Palmerston North district court. The judge has not yet released his verdict. Resentment among ISOCNZ members over the funding of the suit by Domainz had built up in recent weeks, after O'Brien told the court that the decision to bring the suit sprang from a meeting organised by ISOCNZ chairman Peter Dengate Thrush. Dengate Thrush helped ensure a conciliatory mood at Friday's meeting by vacating the chair for treasurer Keith Davidson, to avoid a possible conflict of interest. The first motion initially for debate, moved by Craig Anderson, was that the ISOCNZ council fully fund Brown’s defence of the case, including any future expenses. Lawyer Gavin Adlam said it was difficult to see how funding a payment in respect of an action already completed would fall within the objectives of the society; if it did not, the motion could not be put. Member Jenny Shearer, from Auckland, contended that sorting out the ill feeling played a part in promoting the interests of the internet community, while Lin Nah said a test case of the validity of defamation on the internet was squarely within ISOCNZ objectives. Various rewordings were suggested, such as that the society provide Alan Brown with an honorarium for his services to the internet community. Roger de Salis, appointed to the board of Domainz to sort out the conflict, then stated that an offer of mutual apology and compensation by Domainz still stood. He apologised on behalf of the company’s directors. With a spirit of reconciliation in the air a recess was called for private discussion and the amended motion for compensation was constructed. Originally, it carried the rider that ISOCNZ “acknowledge that poor policy processes have led to the situation regarding the court case, which is deplored by Isocnz members”. Lin Nah and others argued the rider was necessary to prevent a similar situation happening again, but de Salis said it would be impossible and probably undesirable to prevent future defamation actions, since the protection of the law had to be there for anyone defamed. “Though in this case,” he added, “I do believe wrong decisions were made.” In the event, the motion was split into two; the first part was passed, but the second, on poor process, was lost, with a notable split between Auckland, where the majority voted in favour, and Wellington, voting overwhelmingly against. Anderson then undertook to withdraw the original two other motions on the agenda and votes of members in the main Auckland and Wellington venues were unanimously in favour. These had called for ISOCNZ to take action against Patrick O’Brien for “failing to act in the best interests of [Domainz] when he was CEO”, and that a report be commissioned on O’Brien’s work and the results made public. Withdrawal of the motions could not technically be passed without a unanimous vote and contact with some members voting online had been lost; so the acting chairman declared the motions inadmisssable.