Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
anonymity, defamation, maryland

Yet Another State Court Explores Right To Anonymity In Online Posting

from the you-can't-go-back... dept

We've seen an awful lot of lawsuits over the years concerning the "right to anonymity" for online commenters. While other countries tend to be pretty quick to take away anonymity, rulings in the US have pretty consistently allowed anonymous posting. However, the issue keeps coming up -- with the latest battle taking place in Maryland's Court of Appeals, where a business owner is demanding the identity of two anonymous posters on an online message board, who complained that the owner's Dunkin' Donuts location was "one of the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen" on the site NewsZap, owned by the company Independent Newspapers.

Recently, in a similar case, a court ruled that a newspaper can keep its comments anonymous under the same rules that allow it to keep any sources anonymous. It doesn't sound like this argument came up in this case, but it might be worth considering.

But, more to the point, this seems like it could also be a SLAPP suit. The complaint was clearly a statement of opinion. And, of course, in bringing this lawsuit, it seems like all Zebulon J. Brodie has really done is draw an awful lot more attention to the fact that people think the Dunkin' Donuts he owns in Centreville, Maryland isn't particularly clean. Maybe he would have been a lot better off just making sure that it was clean. And, if he really felt that the message was unfair, why not just post a message pointing out that it wasn't true (hell, put up a photo) and invite anyone to come in and check it out. Wouldn't that have been a lot easier, cheaper and more effective?

Either way, Brodie chose a different route for whatever reason -- but as Public Citizen's Paul Levy argued in court, the issue with anonymity is that once it's removed, you can't go back. A court should be quite cautious and convinced that defamation has actually happened before removing that important right.

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  1. identicon
    MrGutts, 10 Dec 2008 @ 4:05am

    I thought the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on this a year or so ago.

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