The High Court has rejected an application by retired MMA fighter Artem Lobov for orders requiring Conor McGregor to take down allegedly defamatory social media posts about the Dublin-based Russian.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Garrett Simons said he was not satisfied that the statements made by Mr McGregor on social media, calling Mr Lobov "a rat", are "clearly defamatory".
To call a person a rat without more does not fulfil the definition of defamation, the judge held, before he dismissed the application for various orders against Mr McGregor.
Mr Lobov had sought orders including an injunction requiring Mr McGregor to remove the material from his Twitter account.
Mr Lobov claimed he has been the subject of a barrage of harassing, intimidating and defamatory posts by Mr McGregor on his Titter account. Mr McGregor had opposed the application.
Mr Lobov claimed the most damaging post about him on Mr McGregor's Twitter account, @The NotoriousMMA, is where he is allegedly referred to in a song sung by Mr McGregor as being a "rat".
The High Court heard Mr Lobov claimed the posts on McGregor's account about him arise from other legal proceedings brought by him against Mr McGregor over a purported multi-million euro whiskey deal.
Mr Lobov had sought an order under Section 33 of the 2009 Defamation Act prohibiting Mr McGregor from publishing any further posts similar to those allegedly published by Mr McGregor on Twitter on November 26th.
Cease and desist
The 36-year-old Russian national had also sought an order requiring Mr McGregor, or any other person who has notice of the proceedings, to cease and desist from making any similar posts on social media to those complained of.
Mr Lobov further sought an order requiring Mr McGregor to take down and remove any of the allegedly defamatory posts on Twitter or on any other form of social media.
The judge said in his ruling said that he was satisfied Mr Lobov had failed to meet the first limb of the legal test required that would allow the court grant an order under Section 33 of the 2009 Defamation Act against Mr McGregor.
Mr Justice Simons said Mr Lobov claimed that by being called a rat meant that the plaintiff was an informer, a person who betrayed somebody, a person who reveals confidential information, and a person who double crosses.
The statement complained of in this case appeared on the Twitter account of "a world-famous" MMA fighter, about another MMA fighter now retired from competition, he said.
"Trash talking" is part of that activity, the judge said, adding that Mr Lobov was also the subject of various insults, including being called a rat in a post on the Twitter account in question.
The judge said he was not satisfied that a read of this post would give the same meaning to the word rat as claimed by Mr Lobov's lawyers in their letter of complaint to Mr McGregor. It was for more likely that a reader would see the tweets as "part of a rant by a trash talking MMA fighter," he said.
The term rat was merely one of "a series of pejorative terms" applied to Mr Lobov, and was "not necessarily even the most insulting".
The judge added that the word 'rat', when used in isolation, is no more than a term of vulgar abuse.
More is required in order to succeed in a defamation action, the judge said.
Mr Lobov, the judge said, had not persuaded the court that the tweets complained about are clearly defamatory, and there was no reasonable basis for apprehending that the tweets would injure Mr Lobov’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society.
"No reasonable member of society would attach any significance to these tweets," he added.
Mr Justice Simons also added that while he was of the belief that Mr McGregor was entitled to recover his costs of the application, he would hear the parties as to the question of costs in January.
Opposing the application, Mr McGregor's lawyers claimed the injunction application was "wholly unsustainable", raised issues concerning the freedom of speech and expression and that there were other alternative remedies available to Mr Lobov.
Mr Lobov claimed Mr McGregor has no defence to the application and that the orders sought by the plaintiff should be granted by the court.
In his action, Mr Lobov claimed that on November 26th last, several posts were put on Mr McGregor's account by way of voicenote where it is alleged the Dubliner sings "Artem is ra-at nah nah nah nah, hey, nah nah nah nah hey rat" repeated 12 times.
Mr McGregor has also allegedly referred to Mr Lobov as being a rat in other posts, posted between late November and December 15th last on his Twitter account, which has 9.7 million followers.
The court also heard that a picture of Mr Lobov superimposed on a packet of raw sausages was also posted on Mr McGregor's Twitter account.
In other messages posted on the account, it is claimed Mr McGregor calls Mr Lobov a little blouse, a turn coat, an uncooked sausage, makes references to court proceedings concerning the parties, and challenges the plaintiff to a fight.
Mr Lobov also claims that as part of the campaign against him on Twitter and Instagram, Mr McGregor's father Tony McGregor also sent him pictures of a rat, a snake and rats.
Mr Lobov sought an undertaking from Mr McGregor to cease and desist from posting such material. Mr Lobov's lawyers claimed they had received no reply from Mr McGregor.
The court heard the parties have known each other for many years, and had been close friends and sparring partners.
In proceedings that came before the Commercial Court earlier this month, Mr Lobov claims Mr McGregor, along with two other shareholders, sold the 'Proper No 12' whiskey brand for $600 million (€584 million) to Proximo Spirits in 2021.
The deal reportedly netted Mr McGregor $130 million (€123 million), making him the highest earning sportsman in the world last year.
Mr Lobov claims Mr McGregor told him: "Remember 5 per cent is yours, no matter what" when the pair discussed the future of a new brand of Irish whiskey backed by Mr McGregor.
Mr Lobov, seeking specific performance of an oral agreement he claims the two men made when they met in the SBG gym, Naas Road, Dublin in September 2017.
The court heard Mr Lobov was offered €1 million by Mr McGregor, but had refused the offer.
Mr McGregor denies Mr Lobov's claim, adding that in a message from Mr Lobov stated he did not want anything from the deal.
However, Mr Lobov failed to get his case admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court list due to delay in bringing the case which now goes through the normal High Court list.