Podcast

How anonymous social media sensations can avoid getting sued

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Amid the thrills of YourBarristerBoyfriend’s sensational arrival on the scene last week, there were — this being a Tumblr about the law — some anxious murmurings about the legality of ranking “barrister hotties”. Should the poor lambs who’d been featured in the list of the most attractive barristers in London have first been asked for their consent to be included, asked legal journalist Rachel Rothwell on Twitter.

And what about the use of images from chambers’ websites of these horribly objectified men? Could a disgruntled hot barrister seize upon what is technically a copyright infringement to bring down the anonymous American duo behind the list? Or would the pair’s decision to keep their identities private protect them?

I went to meet top media barrister Christina Michalos (pictured) ­to ask her views on this and other issues arising from the continuing growth of social media…

Happily, she told me that YourBarristerBoyfriend‘s authors are almost certainly in the clear.

“Most barristers have got quite healthy egos and would be delighted to be included in the list. The only real legal issue is use of the photographs…but I somehow think the chances of chambers issuing copyright infringement proceedings are extremely low,” said Michalos, adding: “I don’t think the people behind the Tumblr site have much to worry about.”

In theory, though, if the list had contained damaging information about those featured in it — a top ten dodgy-looking lawyers, for example — the authors’ anonymity wouldn’t necessarily have protected them. Injured parties in such cases can obtain the IP addresses of websites that have defamed them via a ‘Norwich Pharmacal order’, and then use that to try to pinpoint the author’s identity, points out Michalos.

So anyone considering further comedy lawyer Tumblrs, or Twitter accounts like @FailingGrayling, should exercise some caution in what they write. As, indeed, should anyone posting potentially defamatory anonymous comments anywhere in cyberspace, unless they do so in a way that makes it impossible to trace their IP addresses — i.e. by doing their defaming in disguise at an internet cafe where no one could possibly know who they are.

Listen to my full discussion with Michalos in the podcast below — or on iTunes — with the 5RB barrister also offering her thoughts on the CPS’s new guidelines on social media prosecutions and giving tips to wannabe lawyers who’d like to follow her into the sexy area of media law.