IN THE QUILTLAND COUNTY COURT NO OF MATTER EQS 0001
IN THE MATTER OF : STASHBUSTERS V HELEN CONWAY
AND IN THE MATTER OF LIBEL
JUDGEMENT OF JUDGE S.B. SUE
This matter came before me today for interim judgment as to whether the material posted on Ms Conway's blog on .25th November 2007 constitutes libel of the Stashbusters group. In fact, unusually the action has not been brought by a member of the group but by the potential defendant who seeks an advance declaratory judgment. I understand her motive to be that she needs to be sure, before she swells her own stash with a large amount of fabric, that the same funds she intends to expend will not be called upon for payment of damages in a libel action.
The first issue for determination is one of forum, that is the correct jurisdiction in which the action should be brought. It is clear - as Ms Conway pointed out with some glee - that her post has been read by many people around the world. That therefore raises issues of the domestic law of all the countries involved - so far including Australia, USA Germany, UK and the Nethelands.
I am of the view that Quiltland is the correct jurisdiction for her to choose, existing as it does to create a united state for all quilters. It is a fairly newly established legal contsruct ( yesterday in fact) but has as its purpose a safe haven for all international quilters to retreat into when the law of their domestic states is insufficient to meet their interests. I understand the primary purpose to be the establishment of a common currency and trade area. This of course stems from the need to protect quilters from the dangers of domestic bakruptcy laws being applied to them in circumstances where all, or the majority of their insolvency is textile purchase related. I understand that it was in fact some, if not all members of the Stashbusting group, who, because of their past, profligate behavor, lobbied for the creation of the QTZ (Quilt trade zone) in which one FQ (the main currency which in turn divides into 100 scraps) is equal to 1/1,000,000th of any domestic currency unit for purchase calculation purposes. It seems to be then, that benefitting as they do from the devaluation of their debts in the Quiltland jurisdiction, it is impossible for them to argue that the status of their group cannot be determined by recourse to the same jurisprudence. I am therefore satisfied that I have jurisdiction.
The main question before me for determination then is whether the material in question ammounted to libel. In UK domestic law the term libel means, "A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person's reputation."
As there is as yet no case precedent in Quiltland for that term, it is open to me to create such definition. It seems to me that law should reflect the composition of the community it regulates. I thus define libel in Quiltland to mean, "Would a quilter feel that the publication was so damaging to their reputation that they would be willing to miss a trip to a quilt shop, class or show, to take the opportunity to rectify the impression given of their character by the publication?"
The piece in question revolves around the fact that the group were called a cult and 'especially faddish' because of their adhesion to a principle of not buying fabric for a year. On first reading of the papers it certainly seems that, given the very purpose of Quiltland, it must be a subset only of the population who are not intending to maintain or indeed swell their stash. However, it is not a question only of whether it is incorrect to term Stashbusters as 'especially faddish' but also whether to do so would damage their reputation to a suficient degree.
It seems to me - and here I take judicial notice of my own experience in the quilt world - that given that is is seen as perfectly normal in Quiltland to have impassioned debates about, and even publish books which relate at least in part to the issue of, whether fabric should be pre-washed or not, all subjects of the land must be deemed to be faddish in that they fall in one camp or the other. Further, it appears perfectly normal for Quiltland subjects to have impassioned views on how to fold a FQ or whether to hand or spray baste. So, it seems to me that especial faddishness is in fact a national trait and thus cannot be libelous.
If I am wrong on that ( and I cannot be since I created this court and did not at the same time create an appeal court, but for accademic interest, if I was) then there is another consideration. The blog entry was based on an analysis of the Stashbuster's rule of No Buying. Since the blog post in question was written there has been additional evidence submitted to the court which is now appendixed to the original post in the way of comments. It is clear from that that the 'rule' is no such thing. For example, Sandy said, "Love the Stashbuster piece. But listen you CAN join us ... many of us don't join the NO BUY. LOL" Peggy B ( posting as anonymous) said, "no one has to go "No-buy". Greenmare said, "I can certainly testify that I am no WAY on no-buy,"
However, the most damming evidence comes in a private email from Del Jeanne Mathews who wrote,
"Even in the no buy challenge, it's allowable to buy backings, borders and bindings, and anything you have run out of that's absolutely required to finish a quilt."
It is clear to me that anyone wanting to finish a quilt for which they had no suitable material to start with would thus under this'rule' be able to buy everything required. Given the discretionary nature of fabric choice this rule is so open to interpretation that that the traditional coach and four might be driven through it all the way to Houston.
Ms Conway's complaint was of the sneaky seductive nature of the group. From the evidence I have before me it appears that the group portray themselves publically as stashbusting. However, in private the position appears more murky. Margeeth, for example confessed that having stashbusted she is now going to dye fabric to replace the stash. It is clear to me that this is a group of lovely people. However, I believe them to fall into one of two categories.
The first are deliberately portraying virtues which they know not to be living for whatever motive (possibly to enable a front for the purpose of maintaining relationships with spouses and children who cannot understand why Mum works full time yet there are no funds left to go to Disneyland for their birthday). The second having signed up in good faith, find the lifestyle of the group to be different to its publicity material. The first group need the second to maintain credibility with the outside world when they claim to be stashbusting for real. (For it has to be born in mind the levels of deceit common in Quiltland surrounding stash purchases. It is a fact of life that a non-quilting spouse, when presented with a quilt declared to be 'all from my stash darling. It cost nothing' has no chance whatsoever of proving that fabric was new simply by looking at the top. That being the case suspicious spouses may look for evidence in terms of the way the wife's friends and therefore the wife behave when moving as a group. If it appears that the group is stashbusting then the spouse will assume the wife is, likewise.)
The existence of such sub-groups within a Ring and the nature of the psychological tactics I have just described are, in my learned opinion, characteristics of a cult. Thus, being true, the original piece cannot be libellous.
I thus grant Ms Conway the impunity she requires to stashswell.
As to the question of the costs of the litigation clearly Ms Conway has won and the general rule in civil litigation is that costs follow the event. I see no injustice in making Stashbusters bear the cost of this important test litigation and thus I order each member to pay 1 FQ to Ms Conway. Given that such an order in fact meets the stated objective of the group I can see no reason to stay such an order or allow payment by installments of one scrap per week as suggested.
Order of Judge S.B. Sue
29th November 2007