Court protects blogger's identity

Discussion in 'Law and Justice System' started by Abbey Normal, Oct 8, 2005.

  1. Abbey Normal
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    Abbey Normal Senior Member

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    I would like to see this case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Balancing Internet free speech with libel is an important issue that will only grow larger. I would not be comfortable with someone being able to publicly accuse my family and I of all sorts of disgusting things, and then be able to hide behind Internet anonymity. What do you think?

    Del. court protects blogger's identityJustices rule that online criticism is free speech
    By J.L. MILLER
    The News Journal
    10/06/2005


    In a ruling that could help set national legal standards for free speech on the Internet, the Delaware Supreme Court sided with free-speech advocates Wednesday and rejected a Smyrna Town councilman's quest to unmask an anonymous Internet critic.

    The state's high court reversed a Superior Court order requiring Internet service provider Comcast Cable Communications to release the identity of "John Doe No. 1" to Councilman Patrick Cahill so Cahill could pursue a libel suit for allegedly defamatory comments Doe posted on a weblog, or "blog."

    And the justices set a high standard for future cases, making it difficult for people like Cahill to force disclosure of an anonymous poster's identity simply by filing lawsuits that have little chance of success.

    "We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously," Chief Justice Myron T. Steele wrote in a 33-page opinion.

    "The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all," the opinion states.

    Cahill had filed suit in Superior Court against Doe No. 1 and three other anonymous critics after they posted anonymous comments on a Smyrna issues blog operated by Dover-based Independent Newspapers Inc.

    Comcast could not determine the identity of the three other critics, but it had John Doe No. 1's IP address, the unique numerical identifier assigned to each computer on the Internet.

    The Superior Court ordered Comcast to release Doe No. 1's identity, but that decision was stayed to allow the Supreme Court to consider the matter.

    Doe No. 1's comments in September 2004 posts referred to Cahill's "character flaws" and "obvious mental deterioration." A later post referred to him as "Gahill," which Cahill interpreted as an accusation that he is gay. The posts by the three other anonymous critics were laced with obscenities and sexual references aimed at Cahill and his wife, Julia. Their IP addresses were not available.

    Robert J. Katzenstein, Cahill's attorney, said he was not prepared to comment Wednesday, and Cahill also declined to comment.

    The high court's ruling was hailed by free-speech advocates who, like the Supreme Court, likened anonymous political speech on the Internet to the anonymous political pamphlets handed out during the Revolutionary War era.

    "It wasn't a grand slam, but it is a home run for us," said Paul Alan Levy, attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen. Public Citizen, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU's Delaware affiliate had filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to protect Doe No. 1 from disclosure.

    "This is an important decision by an important Supreme Court," Levy said, noting that this is the first such case addressed by a state's highest court. That makes courts in other states likely to look to this decision for guidance.

    "The court's determination to require sufficient evidence before a critic is outed will go a long way toward reassuring citizens that they remain free to anonymously criticize public officials," he said.

    David L. Finger, who represented Doe No. 1, said he was "pleased that the court agreed that the statements that John Doe No. 1 made, in the context of this blog, could not reasonably be interpreted as statements of fact. They were basically his opinion."

    In the Supreme Court arguments Sept. 7, Katzenstein had urged the court not to establish "an ill-defined balancing between First Amendment issues on the one hand and defamation issues on the other," and to recognize that the right to free speech "ends at the right of the other person not to be defamed."

    In the opinion, the justices looked to a New Jersey lower-court ruling on Internet speech.

    The standard the Supreme Court has set for Delaware now requires a plaintiff to present enough evidence in support of a defamation claim to be able to defeat a defendant's motion for a summary dismissal.

    "Moreover," the opinion states, "when a case arises in the Internet context, the plaintiff must post a message notifying the anonymous defendant of the plaintiff's discovery request on the same message board where the allegedly defamatory statement was originally posted."

    This notification provision imposes very little burden on a defamation plaintiff while at the same time giving an anonymous defendant the opportunity to respond," the opinion states.

    http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051006/NEWS/510060363/1006
     
  2. Mr. P
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    Mr. P Senior Member

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    Woooooooo…what a can o worms! Just off the top of my head though,
    I think any libel claim should have to fit the same standard for ALL formats.

    Make sense?
     
  3. Abbey Normal
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    Abbey Normal Senior Member

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    Yes, absolutely. I'm not sure, but I have the impression from the article that they are raising the plaintiff's threshhold for a libel suit if the speech is Internet speech.
     
  4. Mr. P
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    Mr. P Senior Member

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    You mean this part...?
    That's the way it is now isn't it, in order to get a summary Judgment? I dunno..
     

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