European low-cost airline Ryanair has obtained an urgent court order in the high court in Pretoria forcing Telkom Mobile to help trace someone it accuses of harming its reputation on the Internet.
Judge Francis Legodi ordered Telkom on Tuesday to furnish the Irish airline with all information in its possession which identified or would help Ryanair to identify an Internet user with the pseudonym “always flying” and an Internet protocol address in South Africa.
Ryanair company secretary Juliusz Komorek said in an affidavit Ryanair was Europe’s only ultra-low-cost airline, had 57 operational bases across various European airports and carried more than 80m passengers a year.
He said the airline had an unblemished reputation for safety in the past 29 years, while maintaining cost-effective flight operations in Europe and North Africa.
Komorek said the airline became aware last September of several “defamatory and other derogatory statements” published about it on the website www.pprune.org and www.pprune.com.
The website was subscribed to globally by pilots, journalists and other professionals, with more than 370 000 registered users, communicating through an average of 2 000 posts per day, and receiving nearly a million visitors a month.
It proclaimed itself the “PPRnNe Forums” (The Professional Pilots Rumour Network) and popular aviation topics were posted and discussed on the website.
Komorek said the airline had instructed the Los Angeles-based law firm Holland and Knight LLP to file libel proceedings against a number of unidentified defendants — suing them as John Does (1-100) — in the Los Angeles superior court.
At the same time, Holland and Knight had also been instructed to seek and obtain a subpoena against Internet Brands, the California registered owner of the PRRuNe website, in order to establish the real names of the defendants.
On receipt of data, further subpoenas were obtained against various parties such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Google.
Ryanair also appointed the specialist consultancy company, Word to the Wise, to analyse the information received, and the company was able to identify from which IP addresses the posts were made.
The addresses included two Irish companies, British Telecom in the United Kingdom and 8ta (Telkom Mobile) in South Africa.
The investigation revealed that the user “always flying” had made 20 posts about Ryanair on the website.
Komorek described one post as “particularly offensive and damaging” as it “falsely portrayed Ryanair to the general public as having incompetent flying crew”, which could seriously affect the airline’s reputation and business.
The comment, which was posted under the headline “Poor Airmanship” read: “I don’t care if its wind/delays/weather or anything, if you are flying around your destination eating into your alternate fuel then you shouldn’t be a pilot. If they were employed at my company I would have fired the lot of them!”
Komorek said the airline had already obtained orders in the high court in Ireland and had launched a similar application in Australia.
Ryanair launched the South African high court application after Telkom at first failed to respond to its requests, but later said its code of conduct relating to the confidentiality of clients precluded it from furnishing the information.
“The applicant [Ryanair] is concerned that it has suffered and will suffer reputational harm as a result of the posting,” Komorek said. “[It] has no objection to honest, objective, legitimate comment, but in the present circumstances stands to suffer increasing reputational damage as long as such wrongful publication remains on the website.
“Once in possession of the information, the applicant proposes requesting the user to take down the posting and to tender a public apology for the publication of any unlawful and wrongful statements.”
UK newspaper the Independent reported last month that Ryanair had dismissed one of its pilots, John Goss, for questioning the airline’s safety records in a television interview. Goss accused the airline of encouraging crews to minimise the amount of back-up fuel.
The newspaper said the airline had threatened to take legal action against Goss for his “defamatory contributions” to the programme. — Sapa
- Image: Mikel Ortega/Flickr