When NSW voters log on to do some Premier shopping ahead the state election in March, they’ll be surprised by what they find at www.morrisiemma.com:

“Labor loves to talk about flip flops … they do it all the time.”

“Dam Fools. Water strategy? What water strategy?”

“The biggest risk facing NSW at this election is that nothing changes.”

An ill-timed outbreak of political honesty? Not quite: this is actually a website run by the NSW Liberal Party (the Premier’s official site has an additional.au on the URL).

Beneath the brief animation you can find the name Graham Jaeschke, State Director of the NSW Liberal Party.

Jaeschke appears to have borrowed this “cybersquatting” strategy was from his Victorian counterparts, where the move backfired to some degree during the Victorian election last year when Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu directed radio host Neil Mitchell to the Bracks Broken Promises website (now offline). Baillieu denied knowing who was behind it, but within moments Mitchell revealed the website was authorised by Julian Sheezel, state director of the Victorian Liberal Party. There was even a link to it on the Victorian Liberal Party’s website. Much embarrassment followed.

So what recourse does the NSW Labor Party have? Can you stop this sort of negative campaigning? And what sort of rights does a state premier have to his own name in cyberspace?

An internet law expert told Crikey that the first step is assessing the legitimacy of the site. In this case, no attempt has been made to disguise who’s behind it. There’s no attempt to obtain a financial advantage by using someone else’s name. Which raises the question, does someone like Morris Iemma have “rights” to his name which allow for the closure of the site?

The answer is probably not, because unlike Julia Roberts, Iemma’s name doesn’t carry any commercial rights. Indeed, Roberts won a case on those grounds back in 2000.

Further, Labor might argue it’s defamatory, but the Liberal Party would argue it’s about informing the electorate, and that if negative campaign information can be run in newspapers or on television, why not online? Overall, it’s doubtful the Labor Party has any recourse through the law.

But what does it say about the credibility and trustworthiness of the party that wants to run NSW? 

Peter Fray

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