Libel or slander? Damages or jail? You be the judge…

Two former employees of Varian Medical Systems who have posted more than 14,000 messages about the company on 100+ message boards were fined $775,000 for damages to Varian back in November. In addition, the court imposed a permanent injunction on the two, barring specific libelous postings about Varian employees and their personal lives.

Attorneys for Varian go to court tomorrow to try and argue that the only way to shut the two up is by sending them to jail. You can browse some of their posts by looking at Varian’s message board at Yahoo!, or by browsing their mildly disturbing web site at GeoCities.

The case raises some intriguing questions aside from the bizarre behavior of the defendants:

  • Are judges allowed to visit web sites that are material issues in a case?

  • Is Internet “speech” libel (i.e., a written comment) or slander (i.e., a published statement – anything published mechanically, like radio or TV)? (Under California law, special damages are available only under libel.)

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