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Tiscali Given Clearance to Sue BT over Marketing Letter

Posted: 18th Dec, 2008 By: MarkJ
Remember the furore that erupted after a marketing letter for BT's broadband services was sent out to Tiscali customers warning them about the ISPs future (copy of the letter)? BT's message appeared to exploit the uncertainty surrounding Tiscali's sale, hinting to users that the service might be at risk.

Naturally Tiscali was somewhat less than pleased with the move and quickly began taking legal advice over the matter, though their defamation case was initially blocked. However all that appears to have changed after they were granted permission by the High Court to sue under new unfair commercial practice laws.

Out-Law.com reports that Tiscali has now won the right to bring a case that is based on alleged breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations laws:

Enforcement of the Regulations is limited to enforcement authorities such as the Office of Fair Trading, Trading Standards and Northern Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Individuals and companies are given no rights of action. However, Tiscali is relying on the tort, or civil wrong, of unlawful interference with a business.

"The central point of [Tiscali's] case is that there simply were no grounds for suggesting that the talk earlier in the year of a takeover, or the possibility of its coming to fruition in the medium term, provided any grounds for thinking that the broadband service would no longer be available to customers," said Mr Justice Eady in the High Court, giving permission for the case to continue.

"There is no reason to suppose that if [Tiscali] succeeds in establishing an infringement of these new regulations, aimed at the protection of consumers and businesses, this could not serve as 'unlawful means' for the purpose of establishing that tort," he said.

Tiscali's case will claim that BT's marketing letter interfered unlawfully with its business through malicious falsehood, though it may have to prove that the operator acted dishonestly. Suffice to say that technical interpretation of the law often makes for difficult cases and it will be interesting to see who wins. Tiscali has declined to give us a comment.
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