In 2002 the Irish High Court refused jurisdiction in a defamation case between the USA Rugby Football Union and Texan web journalist Ivan Calhoun. The court considered that Ireland was not the proper place to hear the dispute. It rejected arguments that possible Irish access to an article briefly placed on a US website amounted to publication in Ireland.

Calhoun posted an article on his US-based website The article only appeared on Calhoun's website for a few days in 1998. USA Rugby sued in Ireland and sought to serve proceedings on the Texas defendant on the basis that the alleged defamation occurred in Ireland. USA Rugby argued that the article was published in Ireland because it was accessible on a non-restricted, public website, and that the International Rugby Board, which funds USA Rugby, is located in Dublin.

Calhoun argued that Ireland was not the proper forum. Both sides were based in the United States. The article had been posted on a small website targeted at US rugby fans. There was no evidence that the article had actually been accessed in Ireland and therefore no evidence of publication in Ireland. He also relied on the expense involved in transporting many witnesses to Ireland for the trial.

The High Court agreed that Ireland was not the proper forum, reversing an earlier circuit court ruling. In an oral judgment, Justice White said that the location of the International Rugby Board and USA Rugby's reputation in Ireland were not sufficient reasons to allow the plaintiff to serve Irish proceedings against US-based Calhoun. There was no evidence that anyone in Ireland had actually accessed the article. The court would not simply assume that possible internet access to the article by Irish residents amounted to actual publication in Ireland.

The case demonstrates that internet publishers should evaluate the international defamation risk. The proceedings ultimately failed on a factual issue. The result might well have been different if USA Rugby could have shown that Irish readers had actually read the article, in which case the claim could probably have been brought in Ireland. Individuals claiming web defamation are not restricted to suing where the website is based, or in the place primarily targeted by the website. However, they must be able to show that at least some individuals accessed the publication in the place where they sue. They also need to show that they are known there, and so have a basis for claiming damage to that reputation. In choosing where to sue, the plaintiff must also consider the practical issues involved in enforcing any judgment.

For further information on this topic please contact David Sanfey at A & L Goodbody by telephone (+353 1 649 2000) or by fax (+353 1 649 2649) or by email ([email protected]). The A & L Goodbody website can be accessed at