As we’ve noted, we regularly get legal threats, some of which are more serious than others. Sometimes we ignore them entirely, and sometimes we feel the need to respond. Depending on the situation, sometimes we respond privately. Sometimes we respond publicly. The more ridiculous the threat, the more likely we are to respond publicly — and I think the latest holds up as one of the most ridiculous legal threats we’ve seen. It comes from Milorad Trkulja, who is also known as Michael Trkulja, and who lives in Australia. Trkulja made some news a few years back when he (somewhat surprisingly) successfully sued both Yahoo and Google for hundreds of thousands of dollars, because when people did image searches on a variety of phrases related to things like “Australian criminal underworld mafia” sometimes a picture of Trkulja would show up. Apparently, Trkulja was actually shot in the back a decade ago by an unknown gunman. And somehow, for whatever reasons, certain websites included pictures of him along with enough keywords that the search algorithms at both Google and Yahoo would return his photo in such searches. We wrote about his victory over Google back in November of 2012, pointing out how ridiculous it was that an Australian court said you could sue search engines because image search happens to pop up your image along with actual gangsters.
Anyway, after we wrote about the case, as happens on Techdirt, people commented on the story, including one anonymous comment from someone who, in a totally offhand way, claimed that “Trkulja’s a gangster, too.” The actual content of the comment, as you can see was actually to clarify some of the misconceptions — including who “Tony Mokbel” is (a well-known Australian gangster) and responding to the author of the post, Tim Geigner’s (admittedly weak) sarcastic joke that Australians fight with machetes, rather than guns.
Now, it appears that Trkulja just found out about this comment (more on how in a moment) and has sent off a fairly massive 54-page document to both myself and to Google with a series of increasingly hilarious demands — including that we respond by 4pm today (he does not designate in what time zone — not that it matters). The letter is, well, you kinda have to read it. It is full of misspellings, along with typographical and grammatical errors of all kinds. For someone who claims to have consulted a lawyer before sending the letter, you’d think he’d consult someone who could proofread his letter as well. No such luck, apparently.
It starts out by claiming that it’s “Not for publication” but that’s totally meaningless. You send it to us, we can absolutely publish it. Free speech means something here in the US. It then includes a recitation of some “facts” about certain Australian organized crime individuals, followed immediately by this: I’m not an expert on Australian law, but I’m pretty sure that’s totally false. I believe that he’s either referring to his own earlier case, or (more likely!) the dreadful recent decision in a South Australia court, concerning one “Janice Duffy.” Duffy, as we’ve discussed, sued Google after she became quite upset that a Ripoff Report post mocking her was a high result on her name (what is often left out of this discussion was that Duffy went to Ripoff Report first and posted fake posts to attack a psychic website where she felt she had been connected to a psychic who provided her with false information, and the supposedly “defamatory” content on the site was someone referring to Duffy as a “psychic stalker”). The ruling in that case did not say that Google is automatically liable for any defamatory content online, but rather, in this specific instance, Google could be found as the “publisher” of some defamatory content, based on the way that Google chose to display that content. I disagree strongly with the decision as is, but even if we accept it at face value, it does not say what Trkulja is claiming.
Oh yes, speaking of Duffy, it felt… odd… to receive a legal threat from Australia so soon after discussing the Duffy decision — especially given that Duffy had not only just yelled at us online, but had also been going off on some bizarre rants and outright threats against some individuals who expressed an opinion suggesting that the ruling in favor of Duffy was troubling.
So, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that Trkulja then admits he only found out about our post and the comments… thanks to Duffy, who is apparently a “family friend” of his. If you can’t read that, it notes that the “matter in paragraph 14” (which is the comment I mentioned above) “come to my attention when my family friend Dr Duffy from South Australia send me link that you have been defaming me as from 2012.”
From there, he notes:
I complains is an article authored by you and posted to the “Techdirt” website situate at https://www.techdirt.com (“the website”)….
Well, I’m really not quite sure what to do with that information, because almost everything in it is wrong, but we’ll get there. From there, he mentions that he spoke to an Australian defamation lawyer, and suddenly shifts oddly from the first person to the third person — possibly copying what someone told him, though it’s not at all clear from the text of the letter. The key point: he claims that comment is defamatory and that Techdirt is liable for it. This is wrong on a variety of levels — but we’ll get there as well.
Then, we get to the “demands.” It starts with a demand for Google. They are apparently supposed to delist Techdirt entirely because of a single comment that Trkulja falsely believes is defamatory. Also, it could be read as to be asking Google to block me personally from Google’s website. Or something. Also, he wants Google to block some other websites. No reason or explanation is given. Then there are demands for me that include identifying the anonymous “subscriber,” delete the comment, the post and anything ever mentioning Trkulja. Oh, and I should fork over a bunch of money: These demands are then repeated again on the next page in slightly different language. And numbered instead of lettered. No idea why. Then there’s a demand that we respond by December 1st, 2012. Yes, 2012. I’ll assume that’s a typo.
Then there are a ton of screenshots that I assume are “exhibits” of some sort. They include my Twitter page for no clear reason. And also the Techdirt profile of the author of the original article, Tim Geigner, and, for reasons unknown, Tim’s Amazon author page. He also refers to Tim as “Darknight aka Timothy Geigner” while I think most of our regulars recognize that Tim is better known as “Dark Helmet” in our comments….
Okay, so that’s the situation. Now, the response: we’re not going to do any of the demanded things. For a whole variety of reasons. Let’s go through just a few, because this post is getting too long already and if I had to respond to all of the ways this letter is wrong, none of you would still be reading.
- First up, not that it really matters, but the statute of limitations is one year in Australia, as it mostly is in the US as well. Under some circumstances, it can apparently be extended to three years, but (oops) that comment was published on November 13, 2012. The statute of limitations is up. Sorry.
- The comment isn’t defamatory. The reference claiming you’re a “gangster” is totally innocuous. It’s a trivial throw away comment on a blog post that no one would notice. Trivial comments are not defamation in Australia (or the US for that matter).
- The other lines that you seem to complain about are opinions not statements of fact. The reference to the “gun” was a response to Geigner’s joke in the post about machetes, not to anything involving you. Opinions are not defamation. Things unrelated to you are not defamation of you.
- Also, we’re a US company with no presence in Australia, so your threats are pretty pointless.
- Even if you could convince an Australian court with some sort of wacky legal argument, we’re totally protected from such judgment thanks to the SPEECH Act.
- Free speech, dude.
- We have no “subscriber” named Anonymous Coward. That’s the designation given to anyone who comments without logging in.
- We didn’t publish the comment. An anonymous user did. We’re not liable for it. If you have any legitimate complaint at all (and you don’t), it’s with an anonymous user who posted a trivial comment three years ago, rather than us or Google.
- Even if none of the above is true: what the fuck? NO ONE is finding a comment buried deep below a blog post about your legal victory and suddenly saying “oh, well that proves that Trkulja was a gangster.”
- Wait, what’s so terrible about being called a “gangster” anyway? To many people it’s a compliment or something to brag about.
That’s enough of a response. There are tons of other possible responses, but in short: we’re not doing a damn thing in response to this ridiculous threat. You have no case whatsoever and complaining about this is ridiculous. It may be time to find a hobby or something, Mr. Trkulja, because poorly written and ridiculous legal threats to foreign entities aren’t doing you any good.