Evony, Everiss and the unreliable witness

Last year we blogged about Evony’s defamation lawsuit in Australia against a British blogger, Bruce Everiss, over allegedly libellous comments he made regarding Evony in his blog.  Everiss had suggested previously that Evony had previously been owned by a Chinese company, UMGE, and that it was linked to a Chinese gold farming business.

Last week, Evony dramatically dropped its lawsuit against Everiss two days into the trial and agreed to pay Everiss’ legal costs (which is the usual rule when a claimant drops his claim).  The Guardian reported that, “in a statement put out by Benjamin Gifford, the “vice development director” of Evony’s legal and intellectual property strategic division, the company said that it would not pursue the case in Australia or elsewhere. He told the Guardian that the decision had been driven by criticism from players of the game. ‘A lot of our players expressed opinions about the lawsuit,’ he said, ‘and we reacted to that.’ ”  Make of that what you will.

Now, Ars Technica has written a great feature probing more into exactly what happened in the lawsuit to make Evony drop the case.  They’ve even gone to the lengths of locating and reviewing the trial transcript, in particular the transcript for the cross-examination of Benjamin Gifford, Evony’s key witness.  They uncovered a number of interesting tidbit, including this exchange over a false claim in a PR release about Gifford’s education:

“[Bell]: It was false to your knowledge when you approved this publication?

[Gifford]: Yes.

Q. You are an out and out liar, aren’t you?
A. No.

Q. How do you say you are not an out and out liar when you have approved statements on the Internet that you hold a Bachelor of Arts, earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Business Administration?
A. That was put there purely as a PR actually.

Q. Mr Gifford, is that a serious answer?
A. Yes.

Judge: As a PR tool, a lie?
A. Not a lie, your Honour. It was just put out—

Q. It is a lie—
A. —that way so it would look as though.

Q. —you had something that you didn’t have?
A. Correct, your Honour.

Q. It is a lie?
A. Yes.

Q. It is not a PR tool, it is a lie?
A. Yes, your Honour. “

Please do read the full Ars Technica feature, it is well worth it.


Without seeing the full transcript, it’s impossible to tell what the court thought about the merits of the case, though Everiss had previously argued vocally that Evony defamation lawsuit should never have been brought in Australia and did not comply with Australian defamation law.

But the case didn’t turn on the merits, in the end.  It’s entirely possible that Evony withdrew its lawsuit based on negative customer reaction, as they said at the time.  But the poor performance of a key witness of theirs must have been a very strong contributing factor – and that’s just based on the transcript extract that Ars Technica saw.  Now, Evony is faced with a legal costs bill as well as the negative publicity surrounding the court case – all of which could have been avoided if they hadn’t started the lawsuit in the first place or had settled on sensible terms.

This case serves as a great example of a rule that disputes lawyers see in practice all the time: your case is only as good as your witness.  A poor witness can ruin your case, however good the legal merits may be, just as a great witness can really boost or even win your case.  This also happened very recently in the UK case of BSkyB v EDS, a massive court case over an outsourcing contract with hundreds of millions of pounds at stake.  EDS lost it, in large part, because their key witness admitted under cross-examination that he had lied about his academic qualifications, which in fact he had bought online.

All very fascinating, I hear the games industry ask, but what has it got to do with us?  Here’s why: the Everiss case and the BSkyB case just go to show how inherently unpredictable litigation can be, however strong or weak your case might seem at the outset.  So, as always, if you’re faced with a dispute, seek legal advice from a friendly disputes lawyer at the outset, because a friendly legal chat early on can save a LOT of time later on.


I read some time ago that Evony had also engaged English lawyers against Everiss following his publication of information which they claimed to be private and confidential to Evony and its employees.  I have not yet seen anything to suggest that dispute has gone away or been settled.  In which case, perhaps we’ll hear more on this in the future?  On the other hand, it’s probably more likely Evony has had a bellyful of Bruce Everiss by now.  We’ll have to wait and see…

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Evony vs Brit blogger in Oz

Evony vs blogger

Just a quick one: the Guardian reports that the US company which owns Evony, the (in)famous web-based game, is suing a British blogger (Bruce Everiss) over allegedly libellous comments he made regarding Evony in his blog.

In Australia?

However, Evony is bringing its libel claim aginst Everiss in Australia, rather than in Britain or the US.

The Guardian quotes Evony’s lawyer: “[Everiss’s] actions bring an enormous discredit to all online journalists internationally and have substantially impacted Evony’s reputation in Australia” said the lawyer acting for Evony, Dean Groundwater of Warren McKeown Dickson.

By contrast, it seems that Mr Everiss is arguing that this action is nothing more than libel tourism (the kind of comment which we have heard a lot recently in England as much of the press have attacked English libel law as being too claimant-friendly).

Hello Mr Jurisdictional Challenge!

Unsurprisingly, the first step in the litigation will reportedly be the Court of New South Wales having to be decide whether it has jurisdiction to hear the claim (this could be Evony seeking a declaration that the Court has the proper jurisdiction, or it may be Everiss seeking a declaration that the Court does not).  Sounds legalistic perhaps, but it will decide whether or not the litigation will go ahead to consider Evony’s actual complaints.

What’s libel?

A very quick and rough summary of libel under English law (which is very similar to Australian law):

A communication is libellous if it is in written form and makes an allegedly factual claim that may in some way harm the image of another person.  Generally, that factual claim must be proved to be false and must be published to someone other than the person who is defamed.  A person who is libelled has the right to comemence Court proceedings seeking (usually): (i) an apology; (ii) a Court order forbidding further publication of the libel; and (iii) financial damages.

Libel law is a very complex (and high risk) area of law so obviously it is never as simple as the summary above may suggest.  There can be very difficult issues for example regarding the standard and burden of proof.  Libel is also subject of many defences – in particular, truth is an absolute defence to libel.

Each of these points may have to be fought out between Evony and Everiss in the coming months, so it will be interesting to see how this develops…