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Dateline: 16 February 2000 Early Edition
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The Art Of Shooting Yourself In The Foot
Before I launch into today's editorial I should make a few disclosures.

Firstly, I maintain a "domain name news" page for Domainz on a commercial basis. Secondly, I am a customer of Domainz, I have several domain names registered with them.

Now on with the story...

Patrick O'Brien, Chief Executive Officer of Domainz is threatening to sue Alan Brown, ISP operator and well-known member of the New Zealand Internet community.

Mr O'Brien is planning to sue Mr Brown for defamation -- alleging that statements made on an ISOCNZ mailing list have:

  • greatly injured his professional and personal reputation
  • exposed him to public odeum [sic] and contempt
  • damaged his reputation and character

The legal document, copies of which have been delivered to Mr Brown list the grounds on which the defamation suit is brought and they include (amongst others) assertions that Patrick O'Brien:

  1. uses Domainz money for private gain
  2. is threatening
  3. has attempted to gag public criticism
  4. is a buffoon The document also alleges that Mr Brown's comments were posted "on an electronic discussion group bulletin board on the World Wide Web entitled nz.org.isocnz" and thus were available to "any user of the World Wide Web."

    Now, it's not my job to be judge and jury in this matter but I think some of these allegations need examining.

    1. uses Domainz money for private gain
    Well, interestingly enough, although it is Mr O'Brien personally who is aggrieved by the comments made by Mr Brown, it very much appears that the defamation action is being funded by Domainz (the lawyers stating clearly that "we act for the New Zealand Internet Registry Limited trading as Domainz").

    Who was responsible for making that decision I wonder? Would not the Chief Executive of Domainz be the one with the power to authorise that expenditure? And who is to benefit from this defamation action?

    Does this prove the veracity of Mr Brown's allegations? -- you decide.

    2. is threatening
    To examine this claim it should be revealed that the legal papers detailing the defamation action were delivered to Mr Brown along with a letter that reads in part: "We are instructed that if you publish a correction and apology in the form attached in the same manner as you published the statement, and pay our client's legal costs, the proceedings will not be served; matters will not be progressed. If, on the other hand, you do not publish the attached correction and apology, we are instructed to serve proceedings and seek judgment against you."

    It should be noted that this is reportedly not the first time such a threat of legal action has been made by Mr O'Brien in order to extract an apology for criticisms leveled at him in a public forum.

    Is Mr Brown's allegation substantiated? -- you decide.

    3. has attempted to gag public criticism
    I leave readers to draw their own conclusions in respect to this allegation, bearing in mind that it was public criticism that produced this defamation suit.

    4. is a buffoon
    So much for free speech and the right to voice an opinion?

    One of the definitions offered up for the word "buffoon" by my dictionary is: "A loutish or inept person." To establish the veracity of Mr Brown's claims in respect to Mr O'Brien's status as a buffoon -- it should be noted that the legal document -- doubtless drafted under the direction of Mr O'Brien, shows a total lack of understanding the distinction between a mailing list, a usenet newsgroup and the World Wide Web.

    Inept? You decide.

    I'm afraid it would appear that by bringing this action, Mr O'Brien has achieved exactly what he sought to avoid -- bringing himself and his actions into public scrutiny in a manner that might not reflect at all favourably on him.

    I for one, call on ISOCNZ -- as the majority shareholder in Domainz to look carefully into the manner in which this matter has been handled by Domainz and Patrick O'Brien. In particular it must be asked -- why are Domainz funds seemingly being used to fund this legal action? Please don't try to offend my intelligence by suggesting that it is also to protect the reputation of Domainz -- I don't buy it.

    Despite the erroneous allegations made in the legal papers, the comments made by Mr Brown were posted using a mechanism that restricts their regular dissemination to only a very small number of people -- and it would appear that subsequent discussion amongst those who have read the comments overwhelmingly claim that Mr Brown's comments have not affected their perception of Mr O'Brien or Domainz.

    Surely if Domainz has enough money to fund a frivolous law suit, seemingly designed solely to repair the perceived personal wounds of its CEO, then why does it apparently not have enough money to address the demands of the Industry? -- demands that, on far too many occasions, it ignores or treats with a level of contempt that can only be offered by a monopoly supplier.

    Mr O'Brien appears to have dug himself quite a deep hole. His action in threatening this suit is seen by many to add veracity to the claims made against him -- truly unbelievable!

    Now we must wait to see whether ISOCNZ are prepared to take control of this situation and bring some common-sense to bear -- and as majority shareholder, ask some questions about why Domainz money is apparently being poured into what appears to be little more than a knee-jerk reaction by O'Brien to someone's opinion and criticism.

    For your interest, copies of the documents served on Mr Brown can be found here.

    As always, your comments are gladly received.


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