Photo by Ben Rosett

Emily Liao of British Columbia has been ordered to pay wedding photographer Kitty Chan $115,000 CAD (~$89,000 USD) in defamation damages after lambasting Chan's photography business online. According to a CBC report, Liao heavily criticized Chan's business, Amara Wedding, in both Chinese and English on platforms that included Blogger, Facebook, Weibo, and others, ultimately destroying her business and prompting this ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gordon Weatherill.

Amara Wedding catered to Chinese-speaking customers, offering wedding photography in addition to other services like wedding planning and officiating. The business had signed a contract with Liao in 2015 that was valued at $6,064.80, but the deal soured when Liao was given proofs of pre-wedding photos to review. According to the report, Liao wasn't happy with the quality of the proofs and the fact they were taken by a professional photographer other than Chan herself, though the contract hadn't specified that she would take them.

Liao reportedly provided Chan with a post-dated check for the work and was reassured that the final image quality would improve after editing. However, the bride stopped payment on the check a week ahead of the wedding, and when Chan refused to turn over the photos until payment was made, Liao filed a claim against her in small claims court.

And that might have been the end of this story, if Liao hadn't also taken to the Internet with a series of attacks against the photography business that Justice Weatherill characterized as "egregious, accusatory and vitriolic." The bride accused Amara Wedding of being "a major scam shop and deceitful photography mill business engaged in extortion, dishonesty, unfair practices, bait and switch and other dirty tactics," among other shocking and disparaging statements. And when her criticisms went viral online, Chan's photography business crumbled. She had to shut down in January of 2017.

Lambasting (and thereby hurting) a photography business with an online "review" isn't the problem per se, but the statements must be accurate and not motivated by malice. As Justice Weatherill explained in his decision, "this case is an example of the dangers of using the internet to publish information without proper regard for its accuracy."

Justice Weatherill has awarded Chan $115,000 CAD (~$89,000 USD)—$75,000 (~$58,000 USD) in general damages, $15,000 (~$11,500 USD) in aggravated damages, and $25,000 (~$19,000 USD) in punitive damages. And though this won't bring back Chan's business—that ship has sailed—she told CBC she was pleased with the ruling: "I want to prove to people that they have to face consequences when they say something on the internet."

The full legal document can be read here.