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Sydney solicitor not defamed because article was ‘gobbledygook’, court told

A counsel for a small website that published articles that alleged an NSW solicitor was a criminal insisted she could not have been defamed because the artificial intelligence it had used had turned the content into unreadable “gobbledygook”.

user iconNaomi Neilson 06 September 2023 Big Law
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Sydney-based lawyer Simone Selkirk launched defamation proceedings in the Federal Court against the websites, including MyLocalPages.com, which published an article alleging she returned $16,000 worth of goods to David Jones using receipts she fabricated.

The allegation contained in the article arose from police charges, which Ms Selkirk had successfully appealed.

In his evidence on Tuesday (5 September), MyLocalPages chief executive and founder Martin Wyatt explained the website was a registered RSS and had a partnership with major news to take content they created, feed it through artificial intelligence (AI) and publish it on the site.

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The article alleging Ms Selkirk had deceived David Jones had been taken from News Corporation, which the Federal Court heard sent an email to MyLocalPages objecting to their republication. All articles containing the allegations appear to have been deleted.

Mr Wyatt said the AI was “still in its early days” and that while it was not the intention to change the meaning of the articles it recreated, it often “incorrectly transcribes it”. In one case, the alleged article had changed the name of the store Country Road.

In closing submissions, counsel for the website said the article had been turned into “gibberish”, which meant the ordinary, reasonable reader would “have to dig very deep to distil the imputation” that Ms Selkirk was a criminal who had stolen from David Jones.

“The fact that it is barely comprehensible makes it barely readable to the ordinary, reasonable reader,” he told the court.

“Essentially, our point is that the hypothetical reasonable reader wouldn’t dig deep into the words like a lawyer might (and) it would be a real struggle to distil the imputations (alleged by Ms Selkirk).

“You have to squint really hard to interpret the gobbledygook.”

The court added the reasonable reader would not have taken it as seriously as if it had been published by one of Nine’s publications.

The counsel added that the article received only three hits – meaning a reader has clicked into the article – and he claimed it was likely this could have come from Ms Selkirk and her lawyers.

Further, it was submitted that Ms Selkirk’s “camp” had been unable to provide evidence of a legitimate reader.

Ms Selkirk’s lawyer submitted that the article was “reasonably salacious” and that “it cannot be right that it is so devoid of meaning”.

He added that his client had suffered an impact on her reputation “and a serious one at that”, particularly among legal professionals.

Prior to Tuesday’s hearing beginning, Justice David O’Callaghan criticised Ms Selkirk for contacting his chambers.

Justice O’Callaghan informed the court Ms Selkirk had requested to appear, but this had been refused because “technological difficulties always seem to arise when people appear remotely”. However, Ms Selkirk said she would prefer not to be in the courtroom.

“She’s a lawyer. She, of all people, must understand that it’s not appropriate of her to communicate with my chambers at all,” he said.

Justice O’Callaghan has reserved his decision.

More to come.

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