Net Anonymity Continues To Vex Companies
from the keeping-the-lawyers-busy dept
There are plenty of people that want to argue against Internet anonymity, whether it's governments concerned about "security" or looking to control expression, or entertainment companies wanting to go after file-sharers. But many companies also see it as a thorn in their sides, empowering people to make all sorts of disparaging remarks and never having to own up to them (whether or not there's anything to own up to is often a totally different matter). While most stick to try to chill things by sending out officious cease-and-desist and over-aggressive takedown notices, others are going to greater lengths. In one case in Maryland, a company is trying to subpoena a newsletter publisher's subscriber list and sources, not because they're accusing him of anything, but because they think they might lead them to some of the two dozen John and Jane Does they sued three years ago for making defamatory statements against the company online. Understandably, the publisher is trying to protect his subscribers and sources, but the company "simply wants to know what [he] might know" -- which sounds like a bit of a stretch. In a separate case, an electric company in Pennsylvania fired an employee after he made some negative comments about its management in a Yahoo chat room. The company first filed a defamation lawsuit against a John Doe, then used it to subpoena information to reveal the person's identity. After it was discovered -- and they found it was an employee -- they simply axed the guy and dropped the lawsuit. The Public Citizen group says such "bad faith use" of John Doe subpoenas is a continuing problem, highlighting the abuse of the legal system to serve private agendas. The problem seems to be that these companies are uncomfortable because they're finding it impossible to control everything everyone says about them, so they go to increasing lengths to try to expose their critics for retribution and chilling effects. It's a pointless and fruitless battle, really: they may think exposing these people and making examples out of them might make people think twice in the future before typing something online, but the fallout from abusing the legal system and trying to steamroll people's rights will typically do a company much more damage than any message-board jockey.