Legal issues about expressing opinions in this forum


Hi all,

I have been reading this forum for long time. Of course, I am a fan of HP calculators. Recently, I find that some people are speculating on the activities of somebody or seller in ebay which are yet to be proved. They even explicitly pointed out particular links. Is this an act of defamation (or slander according to a poster here)? I am not sure whether they are liable to litigation for libel.

I envy the freedom of speech enjoyed by Americans. Does the "freedom of speech" become runaway without control? Do personal attacks or even defamation increase the joy of discussion? Personally, I am not interested in this kind of gossip. I prefer those discussions about technical issues.

I know that some websites require their members to register using non-free e-mail addresses before participating in discussions. Therefore, everybody is accountable for what he expresses in the forum.




I'm not a lawyer, but I believe that a statement would have to be false (or at least, not provably true) to be considered slander, defamation, or libel.

No, the Americans' freedom of speech doesn't include the freedom to make false statements about anyone. That's one of the reasons why such phrases as "in my opinion", "I heard", "the rumour is", "it is alleged", "the alleged [bad guy]", and "the suspect" are so common. Stating an opinion that damages someone's reputation as fact is risky. Even stating a fact that damages someone's reputation as fact is risky if you don't have the evidence to prove it.

Of course, even if the statement is provably true, there's still the risk of revenge.




Which is why perhaps that the average Lawyer in the US earns more per hour than the average graduate Engineer and is recognized by US society as having a more esteemed position, where in Japan, just the reverse is true, a manufacturing engineer is a position of very high esteem.
Hey Todd? ;+} Is this factual or just a (US)urban legend?
---from an engineer


OK, Frank, I'll chime in.

Mr. Prange has it about right when he says the statement has to be true. In general, one cannot make false statements about people. However, the standards are different depending on whether the person is a public figure or a private person (standard is higher for a public figure, and lower for a private person). Expressing one's opinion is fine, but publishing falsehoods is generally not allowed (with some exceptions such as parodies).

IMHO, people should be careful to distinguish fact from opinion, especially when posting on the internet.



One should also bear in mind that in some (many?) jurisdictions, truth alone is not an adequate defence. The statement also has to be "of public interest" (notice, this is not the same thing as "of interest to the public").

Of course, once one gets into cross-jurisdictional issues on the Internet, everything becomes so difficult and expensive that legal remedies are unlikely to be pursued.

--- Les Bell, CISSP


Hi Frank,

You may wish to take a look at this Gallup poll:

Who Americans trust

Most honest and ethical professions:

1. Nurses
2. Pharmacists
3. Veterinarians
4. Doctors
5. Teachers

Least honest and ethical professions:

1. Car salesmen
2. Advertising practitioners
3. Insurance salesmen
4. Newspaper reporters
5. Lawyers



Interesting, and also I wonder if the poll will change this year or for the next couple of years to include some new titles/professions based upon the discovered financial issues exposed? IThere are some studies on Pharm folks which would indicate above average drug abuse, of course most often from stock. Always seem helpful, though we have heard in the news like any other profession of a few bad apples who were cutting doseage to patients, with some injured.


I have been in email contact with the original poster and the seller who thought he had been slandered. In my opinion, the allegedly slanderous article was not even referring to him but to one of the bidders in his auction – someone whose unusual bidding style has been mentioned frequently on the forum lately. (I don’t believe there was any slander against this person either unless "newbie" or "doesn't seem to understand proxy bidding" counts as slander.)

The poster of this article agrees with my interpretation but has also told me that it's OK to delete it or edit it for clarity and I'm waiting to hear which the seller prefers. (The original poster is not a native English speaker and his choice of words may not have been the best.) In particular he used the word ' "fake" ' (with the quotes around it) when strange, interesting, or unusual would have probably been more appropriate.

"I know that some websites require their members to register using non-free e-mail addresses before participating in discussions. Therefore, everybody is accountable for what he expresses in the forum."

That probably wouldn't have affected this discussion since everyone is using real email addresses in their posts. There is now a rule in the Terms of Use that you can't criticize real people without revealing your real identity. That rule wasn't broken here. I received an email response from the original poster within a few minutes of emailing him at his posted address.

The downside of making people register is that it stops many first-time posters. Frankly I get many emailed requests for help each day and I would like to encourage more rather than fewer people to use the forums since you people can produce better and faster answers anyway. (Unfortunately, I sometimes get months behind in my emails - in fact, many of the emails in my inbox right now are remaining "dusty" as I concentrate on the DVD.)

It does sometimes cross my mind to put some kind of limitation on ebay discussions. Ebay discussions have a much greater tendency to "go nasty" than any other topic. (Even when you don't see it, I get nasty emails.) I've recently come to believe that ebay's feedback system is very well designed. One 80 character comment (linked to a transaction) with an optional 80 character response, plus the ability to do "payback feedback" allows so little to be expressed that it protects ebay from defamation claims. ;-) That's a little sad, but I'm frequently left wondering why I should be put in the middle of someone's ebay complaint. At some point, I may stop them. How does everyone feel about that?

In the meantime, please continue using your own name when criticizing people and please choose your words carefully when talking about ebay.


Hi Dave,

I agree with you to some extent. To the best of my knowledge, criticisms about a party are used to point out a case that what he/she does does not reach an acceptable standard expected by the other people under a particular area of interest. Say for example, you said that the poster might not have chosen the best words. Normally, he will not be criticised for poor English because not everybody here is expected to have good English in order to post a message here. In fact, many of the audiences here are not native English speakers. If people had laughed at him, he would not have had post a message here. However, if he took an English examination, his standard of English would be criticised and assessed accordingly. If the same principle applies to the case of the 'rookie' bidder (forgive me for calling you this way! :P), he should have been treated more leniently.

Thank you very much for answering my questions from some of you here. Something suddenly strikes my mind. I am not sure whether such discussions have already undermined the interests of the buyer and the seller concerned. The 'rookie' buyer might not buy over eBay again. It is interesting to see whether eBay will take further (or legal) action against those people as it will strive to protect its own interest. Personally, I do not want anybody to be penalised in consequence. The HP forum used to be a peaceful place for people to express constructive opinions and will continue to be so.



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