AutoAdmit Lawsuit Leads To Suggestion For Dreadful DMCA-Style Takedowns Of Defamation

from the not-a-good-situation dept

For a while now, we've been covering the lawsuits surrounding "AutoAdmit." If you haven't been paying attention, AutoAdmit is a message board system used by law school students, many of whom apparently used it to be what, at best, might be called juvenile jerks. For example, there were certain threads insulting various female law students (in incredibly crude terms), which those students insisted cost them jobs. This point is rather difficult to prove -- because there are many reasons why the women might not have been able to get jobs, and any firm that won't hire someone because of juvenile messages on a message board probably isn't worth working for (also, a few months back, someone sent us some evidence that one of the women actually had gotten a job at a law firm, despite her complaints of not being able to).

However, since we're dealing with a bunch of law students and lawyers, it wasn't long before the lawsuits began flying. First, the women filed lawsuits against the message board, various anonymous posters and an administrator of the message board. Of course, the administrator pointed out (correctly) that he's clearly protected, and eventually he was dropped from the lawsuit -- but not before he lost his job. So, of course, he sued back for the wrongfully targeted lawsuit against him. Quite a mess.

Wired News is running an update on the case, where it reveals that one of the anonymous law students who made the juvenile comments has now been identified to the women filing the lawsuit, meaning that he won't be anonymous much longer. This is a bit surprising, since we've seen a series of lawsuits lately that US courts believe it's important to protect anonymity, even in cases where the content in question is "unquestionably offensive and demeaning."

However, what's more interesting, is the rest of the article from Wired, where it explores the "Pandora's Box" this case has opened up concerning a bunch of issues involving free speech, anonymity and the limits of both. And, of course, since we have a bunch of lawyers involved, there's one downright scary suggestion: create a DMCA-like law that allows someone to demand a takedown of content they find defamatory. If you thought false DMCA takedowns were a bit much, can you imagine how many such defamation takedown's would be sent on a regular basis? As we've seen time and time again, many people (falsely) assume that any content they don't like is defamatory, and already send cease-and-desist letters at the drop of a hat. If you added a notice-and-takedown provision, this would be abused to no end.

But, in the end, as the article notes, it's unclear what good any of this has done. The lawsuit is wasting a lot of people's times, and is doing a lot more to harm various reputations than the original thread ever really did. Yes, it was offensive, demeaning, juvenile and idiotic to some extent. But, opting to file a lawsuit almost seems guaranteed to make the situation a lot worse -- and, frankly, seems to do a lot more damage to the law students suing, than any random obviously childish thread on an open message board would ever do.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 10:38am

    Someone should send a take down notice for the entire internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Truthseekers, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 11:02am

    just wonderful

    Little lawyers practicing on each other, just like the treehouse in middle school. I think we can all agree that this lawyer on lawyer violence, doesnt need to stop.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 11:20am

    This reminds me of a joke...

    What do you call 100,000 lawayer under the ocean?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 11:37am

    Joke...

    A good start...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 11:41am

    Re: This reminds me of a joke...

    a good start?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 11:42am

    Re: Joke...

    is that really the answer? I hadn't heard the joke before.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    ebert, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 1:26pm

    another joke

    what does a lawyer and sperm have in common... they both have 1 in a million chance in becoming a human.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 2:40pm

    Re: This reminds me of a joke...

    Not enough

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    FurryOne, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 4:07pm

    Anonymous-Shanonymous

    Here's a litmus test for what you can say on the Internet - if you wouldn't say it in public with someone recording every word, don't say it! Nobody has any right to anonymity on the internet. If you wouldn't take credit for what you say there, don't say it, period. It's just that simple. (That goes for Blogs, Facebook, newsgroups, and even comments sections like this one.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 4:23pm

    Re: Anonymous-Shanonymous

    Why in the world not? Can you give any reason why we shouldn't have a right to anonymity? Or are you just whiny because people have interfered in your yiff yiffing before, furry?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jul 31st, 2008 @ 4:33pm

    Re: Anonymous-Shanonymous

    Here's a litmus test for what you can say on the Internet - if you wouldn't say it in public with someone recording every word, don't say it! Nobody has any right to anonymity on the internet. If you wouldn't take credit for what you say there, don't say it, period. It's just that simple. (That goes for Blogs, Facebook, newsgroups, and even comments sections like this one.)

    ... says the guy who posts anonymously.

    I can only imagine you're proving a sarcastic point.

    But, if you're serious, actually the courts have held that anonymity is a first amendment right. So, yes, there is a right to anonymity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 5:03pm

    .. says the guy who posts anonymously.

    It's a "Username"

    But, if you're serious, actually the courts have held that anonymity is a first amendment right. So, yes, there is a right to anonymity.

    The Courts didn't express blanket coverage for anonymity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    FurryOne, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 5:05pm

    was that "anonymous enough?

    .. says the guy who posts anonymously.

    It's a "Username"

    But, if you're serious, actually the courts have held that anonymity is a first amendment right. So, yes, there is a right to anonymity.

    The Courts didn't express blanket coverage for anonymity. I shouldn't have been able to post this message w/o personal information like I did in #12, but this system allows it - bad coding!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jul 31st, 2008 @ 10:50pm

    Re: was that "anonymous enough?

    It's a "Username"

    It's still anonymous.

    The Courts didn't express blanket coverage for anonymity.

    No, but it did make clear that anonymity, by itself is a right. If an anonymous person breaks the law, then paths can be taken to expose who they are. If not, however, anonymity is, in fact, a right.

    I shouldn't have been able to post this message w/o personal information like I did in #12, but this system allows it - bad coding!

    Um. Ok.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2008 @ 8:46pm

    These weren't random childish statements on the internet. Have you read the lawsuit? These people were threatening to rape these two women, called them whores, said they had STDs, wrote to the professors at the school they attend, Yale Law, spreading false information about them. One of the emails referred to one of the plaintiffs as a “litigious cunt” who might file frivolous “sexual harassment lawsuits” against professors and employers. They sent an email to the plaintiff's employer saying that her reputation would damage the firm's reputation and linked to the defaming info. Some of the other "childish" things people posted about one of the plaintiffs included stuff like this: "I’m doing cartwheels knowing this
    stupid Jew bitch is getting her self esteem raped."

    The idea posted on this site that anonymous posters and site owners shouldn't be held responsible under the law because potential employers should just take into account that people can't control what others say about them on the internet is ludicrous. If someone is searching for an attorney on the internet and finds comments like these it is going to reflect poorly on the firm. Firms know this, and its undeniable that these type of comments have the potential to hurt the plaintiffs' careers. You claim that a firm that takes this into account "probably isn't worth working for," is based on what exactly? You think the top firms in the country are willing to risk losing millions/billions of dollars in business because corporate clients might not want to be attached to a scandal? If these women want to go to into politics, do you think a politician wants to take on the baggage forced on to them by the defendants?

    One of the plaintiffs contacted the owners of the site numerous times, but none of them had the basic human decency to hit the delete button, even when she let them know that she had starting seeing a therapist because of the constant harassment. Instead, the only response she received was a threat to post her emails on the site if she continued to send them.

    Free speech is not unrestricted in this country. We have laws against defamation, slander, and libel. The idea that these somehow end because people should disregard "juvenile" message boards doesn't make any sense.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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