Another Court Ruling Supports Online Anonymity Rights

from the more-good-news dept

Just last week, we were talking about the importance of protecting online anonymity, and how so many people feel that anonymous speech criticizing themselves must be illegal. The good news, though, is that the courts seem to be in favor of protecting online anonymity if there’s no real evidence of anything illegal. The latest case involved a website about a real estate developer. The site was set up anonymously by someone who was critical of the developer, and the developer sued. However, during the course of the case, the judge asked the developers lawyer if his client was willing to move forward with the case even if the identity of the anonymous critic remained hidden — and the lawyer replied that he did not know, as the main focus of his client was to uncover the identity. The judge then ruled that the online critic could remain anonymous. That’s actually an interesting test to pose to those bringing such cases. Most of the time, it does seem like they’re bringing the case not to right some wrong, but simply to find out who their anonymous critic is — and there’s no legal reason to force the critic to be unmasked. It seems perfectly reasonable that a court should see whether or not the plaintiff is willing to continue to have the case move forward on the merits without knowing who it is they’re suing, before any anonymity is lifted.

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Comments on “Another Court Ruling Supports Online Anonymity Rights”

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a says:

“The good news, though, is that the courts seem to be in favor of protecting online anonymity if there’s no real evidence of anything illegal.”

Mike, when there was a controversy on Techdirt and a employee of a company involved in the issue posted, you revealed that the post came from a company employee. So are you for anonymity or not? Or are you for it just when it suits you?

Not so anonymous geek says:

Re: Anonymity

I believe the folks at TechDirt are all for anonymity if the individual takes steps to protect it.

However, if you’re talking about the incident I believe you are, the user in question was posting on the TechDirt site. Given that Mike would have access to the server logs, it would be an easy matter to look at the IP address that supplied the posts and trace it back to a particular “owner”.

In the case above, the developer was suing to reveal the identity of someone on a completely different site. If the person had instead posted to the developers site, they could have tracked the person themselves or at the very least, deleted the content they had a problem with.

In a way, you are comparing apples and oranges here. Additionally, in the TechDirt incident I’m thinking of, no personal information was revealed – just the fact that the post came from a company involved.

My $0.02 and worth what you paid for it… 🙂

Bob Friendly (profile) says:

Thoughtful approach by the judge

I think that the judge took the correct approach here. There is a danger that anonymity provides greater opportunity for spurious mudslinging. In this case, however, the plaintiff had an opportunity to move forward. Assuming that he had done so and assuming that he prevailed in contradicting any factual misstatements on the website in question, the defendant could have been ordered to post a retraction — all while maintaining anonymity for the defendant.

jeremiah H says:

a penny for your thoughts

I think Mike, that this article needs a few more details. For example, what was the content of the website? If the content of the website was ment to be ribal, then by all means the developer had the right to know who posted the content. And if the content was merely a rant, then yes the privacy of the coward that dosent have the balls to stand up and say this is who i am, and this is what i think- should be protected.

What I see as the scary side of this ruling, the up coming presidental race is going to be a heated one, If such sites are put up blasting the oposition, and paided for privatly, imagine the damage that can do, and how much it could change the face of the election
my two cents, now i would like my penny back

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