Political websites have lined up in defence of a former diplomat whose blog was deleted by hosting firm Fasthosts after threats from lawyers acting for billionaire Arsenal investor Alisher Usmanov.
Four days after Fasthosts pulled the plug on the website run by former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray it remains offline. Several other political and freedom of speech blogs in the UK and abroad have picked up the gauntlet however, and reposted the article that originally drew the takedown demand.
The battle hit the mainstream media spotlight on Friday after the website of Tory London mayoral hopeful Boris Johnson was downed in the crossfire because it was hosted on the same server. At time of writing, it's also still offline.
The complaints against Murray's site arose after a series of allegations he made against Usmanov. Murray also included accusations against Usmanov in his 2006 book Murder in Samarkland, which is still available and being made into a film by Road to Guantanamo director Michael Winterbottom.
After being released from prison, and pardoned, Usmanov became one of a small group of oligarchs to make hay in the former USSR's post-communist asset carve-up. The Uzbek, 54, recently swooped to become a major shareholder at Arsenal and is thought to be worth almost £3bn.
On his behalf, libel law firm Schillings has moved against a number of Arsenal fan sites and political bloggers repeating the allegations.
Murray himself has had no contact with Schillings, and has invited Usmanov to sue him to test his claims in court. In the Google cache, he claims he was in an edit war with Fasthosts admins before the plug was finally pulled.
ISPs and webhosts are easy to strongarm on defamation because of the legal precedent set by Godfrey versus Demon Internet in 1999. That case saw the ISP ordered to pay £15,000 in damages for not removing comments in a newsgroup.
That decision has since been garnished by the 2002 European E-commerce directive regulations that provide hosts and ISPs with protection from liability under some circumstances. It means hosts are in the clear provided they comply with lawyers' demands promptly. Our partner site Out-law.com has a detailed guide here.
Fasthosts said Murray's account had been terminated according to industry standard practice. It refused to say why unrelated websites had been hit by the takedown, or say when they might reappear. Craig Murray has not yet responded to a request for comment. ®