April 6, 2012

Self-published author loses libel battle against reviewer


A self-published author who tried to sue a man over negative reviews posted on Amazon lost the case, and will be forced to pay legal bills of around £100,000. We reported here on Moby last year about Chris McGrath, author of the insanely titled The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need to Know, and his fracas with Vaughan Jones.

After a series of links to McGrath’s book — then listed under the pen-name Scrooby — were posted under a Stephen Hawking title on Amazon.co.uk, Jones did some investigative work, outed McGrath as the author behind the Scrooby name (also outing the book as self-published, something McGrath had been trying to keep to himself), and posted a series of negative reviews. Bitchy online exchanges with McGrath followed, and they were, under the UK’s ludicrous defamation laws, enough for the author to bring a libel case against his critic. And not just his critic: as we reported back in November, Amazon and Richard Dawkins were also defendants in the case, having hosted the reviews or linked to the discussions. The Independent sums up the judgment, which was reached last year but has only just been made public:

The judge ruled that although a small portion of Mr Jones’ words might be deemed libellous by a jury if it went to a full trial, there was little point pursuing that avenue because the potential damages would be slight compared to court costs and time.

The judge also questioned whether Mr McGrath, a married father of two, might have trouble convincing a jury that he had been wronged because of his own online behaviour. During proceedings it emerged that the author had used a number of online pseudonyms to review his self-published book and come to his defence once people began to criticise his work.

And there was quite a lot of defending to do. Here are some reviews from outside the UK’s crazy libel bubble, on Amazon.com:

Garbage Absolute

To save people the time and money, this book is basically written by an individual who has no scientific credentials or background and a paltry grasp of the workings of evolution, abiogenesis, molecular biology, or chemistry. Quite frankly, the author attempts to rationalize science through the power of God, yet any middle-school grade student with a rudimentary understanding of any of the biological sciences or physics would be eons above the author of this book.

If you’re looking for a book written by a pseudo-intellectual who attempts to use his feeble understandings of nature in an attempt to prove the existence of God, then this book is for you. Hilariously written, poor drafted, and honestly one of the worst books I have read in the past 10 years.

The only thing this book is good for is the fireplace

I’ve never read a more incoherent collection of words assembled as a worthless 284 page book that would be better used as toilet tissue. This “book” retails for £20, but isn’t even worth it’s own weight in cow manure. Save your time, money, and sanity, your resources would be better spent fueling a crack binge, which by the way would certainly be less harmful to your brain than this book is.

simply awful

Perhaps you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can by its author. And so, I say with full authority: this book is a piece of crap, written by a hypocritical censorious coward. Luckily I live in the US, so I’m free to post this honest, accurate review.

This judgment is good news not just for Vaughan Jones, but for all those concerned about Britain’s damaging libel laws. The Guardian reported in 2009 that:

Intimidating and out-of-date laws are silencing free speech and scientific inquiry, a report claims, amid increasing controversy over England’s status as “the libel capital of the world”…

“English libel law is preventing not only the media, but also medical science and research, NGOs and others from holding the powerful to account,” said John Kampfner, chief executive of free speech organisation Index on Censorship.

Interestingly, as one of the defendants, Amazon stumped up £77,000 in legal fees to have this case overturned — peanuts to them but almost certainly out of the reach of Vaughan Jones or most other private individuals in his situation. When only tax-evading corporations can afford to participate in your country’s legal system, you know you’re in trouble.


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.