Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Is The $11 Million Online Defamation Judgment A Big Deal?

from the questions,-questions dept

Lots of folks are submitting the USA Today story about a woman who successfully sued an online critic for $11 million for defamation. There seems to be some concern that this is a big statement limiting what people can say online, but that's not clear at all. Defamation is defamation, online or not. And, if you're going to accuse someone of being a "con artist" and a "fraud," you should probably have some evidence to back that up. Now, it's completely possible that the accused can back that up -- but it's worth pointing out that she didn't show up at court to defend herself. She claims she can't afford a lawyer, and didn't even know the court date of the case because the info was sent to her address in New Orleans -- which she had abandoned for a few months following Hurricane Katrina. So, the case really doesn't say much about online speech or defamation, since there really was no defense at all.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    4playR, Oct 11th, 2006 @ 9:23pm


    Info like this is not newsworthy anymore. In fact, i am trying to stifle a yawn as i am reading this. But hell, i got hte second post. and that is a first! i gotta find if that lady is married, tho. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    PT, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 2:08am


    So I have a question. What happens to Bock now? Even if she had $100,000 of left over disposble income each year for the next 50 years, she STILL couldn't pay back the $11 million in her lifetime. So how does this work when it comes to actually paying the money? Or is it just to prove a point and she doesn't actually have to pay all of it? An excercise in learning one's lesson. Never defame someone without evidence.

    The whole point of this lawsuit was a vindication of sorts and the Scheff knew that Bock couldn't pay the money yet went ahead anyway. It appears that Scheff didn't know that the award would be so much but still, her reputation ruined doesn't compare to the life she just ruined as a result of this lawsuit if Bock must pay. Eye for eye just turned into an eye for a heart. Doesn't seem very fair. Its unfortunate for Bock that she couldn't present her case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Bubba Nicholson (profile), Oct 12th, 2006 @ 3:04am

    This has happened to me, too.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Daniel Morritt, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 3:54am

    leave the country? its cheaper ...

    oh no wait, american courts seem to have jurisdiction over everybody now since people can sue other people internationally and expect not to be laughed at.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Looking for a Career Change, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 5:06am

    Nasty, Vindictive People

    Come on! I though that Scheff had to show in court that what Bock posted will cost her $11 million. Really, I understand that this was a blog for parents with problem children in boarding schools, but how many customers could some crazy, disgruntled lady really cost a professional woman? 20? 30? If she can make 11 MILLION DOLLARS off 20 or 30 people, I want to go into the business SHE'S in!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Dam, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 6:00am

    Meaningless Award

    Typically awards like this are challenged on appeal and they are frequently reducd or vacated if the case is found to have little or no merit. But, unless the plaintiff has all her personal details, like her Social Security Nunmber, it's meaningless. Judgements can't be entered against a person's credit history without several identification factors, and since they didn't even know where she lived at the time the suit was filed, she can ignore it.

    This is not as unusual as it may seem. Similar actions occur everyday, although perhaps not in the multi million dollar range. Judgements routinely get ignored. It's only when the defendant is known to the plaintiff and information is found during discovery that it makes any difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 7:31am

    I bet...

    I bet the only reason the judge said $11mill was because she didn't show up. even though I thought that meant you spent some time in jail for perjury. But I know that if I was a judge and someone didn't show up I would not think too highly of them

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Todd, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 7:39am

    Nah, if I was a judge and someone didn't show, I'd be like, Sweet, afternoon off. Judges think they're above everyone else though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Spartacus, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 8:34am

    It happened on a forum

    I read the USA Today article which mentions the website this happened on. I encourage you guys to go to and check out the forums. Specifically go to

    T hat is a forum that simply blasts Sue Scheff and her organization. It's kinda funny to read and I can see her getting upset about some of the things that are said there. HOWEVER it's just a forum for cryin out lout. How can you sue someone over what they said in a forum that just has a bunch of ingrates venting about everything and nothing with as many expletives as possible. I find it hard to believe that this isn't a big deal. People are being sued over a forum post? Yikes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Davey, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 9:53am

    Justice for sale in America

    What this case is about is the same thing the RIAA legal attacks are about: the ones with the money extorting more money, or silence, or cooperation from those who can't afford to defend themselves. Maybe the defendant committed libel, maybe not. We'll never know because she couldn't afford to defend herself, so no case was made.

    The judgement is a big deal because it amounts to an end run around the whole concept of freedom of speech. We have devolved, essentially, back to the Middle Ages, where the ruling classes could force the rest of us to do as ordered by force of law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Michael Lee, Oct 12th, 2006 @ 3:45pm

    Don't be afraid to speak the truth...

    Hey, I got sued for internet defamation. They wanted 20 million. I beat them pro se in a 9 day jury trial. I called the guy a child abuser, grifter and pervert. Unfortunately for was true, and truth is an absolute defense against a charge of defamation. Mike ''

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    mark moody, Oct 19th, 2010 @ 5:45pm

    Internet reputauion reputacion

    That is good news someone has taken action and got revenge on some coward hiding behind the internet to hurt someone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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