Funding opportunity: PhD studentship for research project on corporations and defamation

The University of Portsmouth is seeking applicants for a funded PhD on corporations and defamation – looks like a fascinating project!

The full project title is: “The Defamation of Companies: Free Speech, Public Protection and the Economic Consequences of False Statements upon the Value and Reputation of Companies”. Application details available here (deadline: 19 April 2013)

Applications are invited to a three-year PhD Studentship in Portsmouth Business School, starting 1 October 2013.

Defamation compensates injury to reputation through the spreading of false statements. The English common law has recognized that companies have a reputation to protect, and therefore standing to bring defamation claims. A false statement about a company such as claims about the safety of its product, its treatment of workers, or sourcing of goods, can have adverse impacts upon its share price, income and corporate image. Yet theorists have claimed that unlike individuals whose reputation is damaged, and who may seek defamation to protect their honour and dignity, corporate reputation is a property interest linked to such business concepts as ‘goodwill’ and company value.

Calculating such damages is likely to result in more substantial award of damages than that associated with individuals, and this poses a major problem for groups and individuals who wish to hold companies to account for poor ‘corporate practices’ who may be deterred by companies using defamation SLAPP suits to stop criticism. Such suits undermine the freedom of speech of campaigners and has led to the adoption of anti-SLAPP suits in many US states, whilst in Australia the right of corporations to sue has been removed completely.

Concerns over anti-SLAPP suits and the deterrent effect of large damages awards in cases of corporate libel have been raised in regards to the recent debate on defamation reform in England. The current version Defamation Bill addresses this issue only through the new general requirement that requires all defamation claimants to prove the ‘publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm.’

The aim of this research is to evaluate whether corporations should have the right to sue, and if they are to do so how should damages, or “serious harm”, be calculated, and can this be done in a manner which does not deter civic society organisations and individuals from criticising or monitoring corporate activities.

The research is expected to adopt a number of methodologies to address these questions:

• Examination of case-law and commentary to understand why companies were permitted to sue for defamation in the first place and how this law has developed.
• Examine the underlying theories of defamation/reputation (such as Howarth 2011).
• Use empirical data collection relying upon a series of event studies of alleged libels of companies (such as Vick and Campbell 2001)) to assess the long-term economic and reputational interests upon companies, comparing these with event studies of corporations whose corporate misconduct have been proven.
• Undertake a comparative study with countries which have amended their libel laws to introduce SLAPP suits and prohibit corporations from suing to see if this has any impact upon the reporting of corporate malpractice.
• Review the adequacy of alternative mechanisms of protecting corporate reputation including other legal actions like malicious falsehood and methods employed by reputation management companies.

Full details at this link…

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