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Ario Law Firm has effectively brought the NGO ‘Stop Corruption’ to account in a case concerning the defense of the honor, dignity, and business reputation

News, Projects

Litigation

07 September 2022

Ario Law Firm is revolutionizing the legal approach to disputes involving the defense of honor, dignity, and business reputation with internet resource owners. Remarkably, for the first time in Ukraine, attorneys have demonstrated in court that defendants in such cases include not only the formal owners of websites but also those directly overseeing the operations of web resources.

The Obolonsky District Court of Kyiv has partially ruled in favor of Lyudmyla Kozlovska, President of the Open Dialogue Foundation, in her dispute against the NGO "Stop Corruption." The court found the information published on the website www.stopcor.org in a 2018 publication to be unreliable and defamatory to the plaintiff's honor, dignity, and business reputation. Specifically, the court ordered the NGO "Stop Corruption," rather than the nominal owner of the website, to pay Kozlovska a moral compensation of 50,000 hryvnias and to publish a retraction on its website within 10 days of the decision becoming legally binding.

Representing Lyudmyla Kozlovska's interests were attorneys from Ario Law Firm – Senior Partner Julian Khorunzhiy and Counsel Nataliia Shvets.

As the lawyers note, the practice of registering informational internet resources in Ukraine under "nominal" owners is not quite common, which subsequently makes it almost impossible to effectively challenge commissioned informational materials.

"Given the swift dissemination of information in today's digital age, particularly online, plaintiffs face a new challenge: identifying the appropriate defendants in their cases. This involves not only pinpointing the author of the disseminated inaccurate information but also determining the actual owner of the website where this information was published," stated Nataliia Shvets.

"The legal proceedings concerning the protection of Lyudmyla Kozlovska's honor, dignity, and business reputation were initiated by the court in late 2018. Finally, in 2022, a decision was reached. The complexity and duration of the case review stem from our team's efforts to locate the true owner of the internet resource belonging to the NGO 'Stop Corruption.' As per standard practices in domain registration and usage on the internet, the actual website owner may differ from the registered domain name holder. Given that the author of the disputed publication was absent, our attorneys' task was to track down this owner. This necessitated extensive and time-consuming evidence gathering," detailed Julian Khorunzhiy, Senior Partner at Ario Law Firm.

To ascertain the website owner, Ario Law Firm's attorneys submitted a corresponding request to the Consortium "Ukrainian Center for Support of Numbers and Addresses." Subsequently, they discovered that the domain name was registered in the public domain, outside the Ukrainian internet segment, and that both the domain name registrar and hosting provider were foreign entities.

Ario Law Firm's attorneys petitioned the court to obtain the necessary information internationally. The court granted the motion and issued a judicial request to the U.S. Department of Justice. Upon receiving the requested information, the attorneys found that the domain name registrant was a nominal individual with no direct involvement in the website's activities.

"As mandated by legal precedent, we submitted a motion to the court to bring the identified individual into this case as a co-defendant, while our primary goal remained unchanged – to seek accountability from the true owner of the internet resource, specifically the NGO 'Stop Corruption.' Throughout the proceedings, drawing from all available evidence, including the online presence of this civic organization, we endeavored to demonstrate that the genuine owner and administrator of the website is indeed the NGO 'Stop Corruption,' rather than the individual in question. Thus, it is this organization that should bear responsibility for the defamation against Ms. Lyudmyla," explained Nataliia Shvets.

"Ukrainian judicial practice is notably behind the evolving landscape of the internet. To illustrate, Ukrainian courts in such matters adhere to a Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court (!!!) dating back to 2009. Despite being at the initial stage of proceedings, we have succeeded in asserting our stance and altering the practice to hold the nominal owner of the website accountable. Presently, we observe a shift towards attributing responsibility to the individual who exercises actual ownership rights over the resource. We acknowledge that the appellate stage awaits us, with the final decision resting with the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, if the Supreme Court heeds our arguments, it will signify a paradigm shift in Ukrainian courts regarding disputes involving owners and authors of internet resources concerning the protection of honor, dignity, and business reputation," remarked Julian Khorunzhiy.

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