BusinessCorporate FinanceOn the money with Damian Wild

On the money with Damian Wild

I’ll tread carefully for the next few hundred words as libel is as tricky a subject to discuss as it is expensive to defend

Recent weeks have seen a glut of businesspeople use the courts to defend
their reputations.

The cases may be unconnected and global in occurrence but the lessons that
should be learned are common, not least because there hasn’t been an outright
victory in sight.

First up, WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, who alleged that two former colleagues
ran an internet hate campaign against him. He accepted £120,000 in damages but
his protagonists did not accept liability.

In Moscow a court ordered Forbes magazine to pay $4,000 in compensation to
one of Russia’s richest women for suggesting she had profited from political
connections.

Meanwhile, a Parisian tribunal ordered UK accountant Dixon Wilson to pay
£30,000 over the wrongful dismissal of Catherine Sanderson whose blog,
petiteanglaise.com, offered ‘slices of life in Paris’.

What have the parties gained? Sir Martin has ensured that his new, somewhat
unfortunate, nicknames have a much wider circulation. And while Yelena Baturina
may have obtained satisfaction and pin money, she has also obtained a good deal
of (presumably unwelcome) coverage.

Dixon Wilson’s defeat is perhaps the most illustrative. The media has
relished getting its teeth into a story offering a new, technology-embracing
take on the old David vs. Goliath tale. Meanwhile Sanderson’s blog entry
reporting her victory has attracted 266 responses of which
‘hurrah!’,’yippee!!!!!’ and ‘ WHOO-HOO!’are typical.

Of course, courts exist to right wrongs. But seeking legal redress to protect
a reputation has to be the last resort as even a victory can cause sizeable
collateral damage.

Damian Wild is editor in chief of AccountancyAge

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