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.

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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 31 Jul 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.

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