Court offers guidelines on when to unmask anonymous posters

18 08 2009

In the US, the right to free speech is construed as also protecting the anonymity of the person doing the speaking. Provided that the content, be it spoken or written, violates no laws, citizens have the right to fulminate in public fora without said public being aware of their identity. Courts have also extended this protection to anonymous Internet communications, and are now being asked to weigh in on a related issue: when do accusations of wrongdoing justify the removal of anonymity from the sources of anonymous statements made via the Internet.

The precedents that have been set so far have been a bit mixed. In cases involving defamation, a Virginia court has determined that plaintiffs need only to show that they have a “good faith basis” for their accusations in order to have an otherwise anonymous defendant named. In contrast, New Jersey courts have decided that each claim against a defendant has to be supported by evidence. The latest to weigh in is the District of Columbia’s Court of Appeals, which is tackling a case in which a John Doe defendant lodged anonymous accusations of software piracy against a company, which has sued him for defamation. The DC court ruled that the case may proceed, and provided guidelines that the trial judge should use in order to determine whether the defendant should be unmasked.

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The Shortest Allegedly Defamatory Statement in History?

28 07 2009

lawsuit out of Cook County, Ill., in which a management company filed a ,000 lawsuit over a tenant’s “malicious and defamatory” Twitter tweet. Such tweets, as of course you know, LBers, have a maximum length of 140 characters. And yes, apparently they can lead to defamation lawsuits.

The tweet was made by the tenant, Amanda Bonnen, in reference to the state of her apartment to her 20 followers. “You should just come anyway,” it read. “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.”

Click here for the story, from Chicago Bar-Tender (hat tip: ABA Journal). The complaint notes that because Bonnen’s account was public, “anybody in the world can view the account holder’s tweets.” The complaint says that because the “statement damaged the plaintiff’s reputation in its business, the statement is liable per se.”

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Griping Blogger Gets Fair Use and Anti-SLAPP Win–Sedgwick v. Delsman

27 07 2009

By Eric Goldman

Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. v. Delsman, 2009 WL 2157573 (N.D. Cal. July 17, 2009). The Justia page.

Judge Brown concluded that the republication of the photos on the “WANTED” postcards was fair use. She summarized her analysis:

Defendant’s uses of the photographs of North and Posey are highly transformative and serve an entirely different function than originally intended.

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A Defamation Declaration: Google Wins U.K. Libel Suit

21 07 2009

As Google grows, so too does the list of legal scrapes it’s gotten itself into — with antitrust and copyright issues rising to the top of the docket in recent days. But the company can breathe a little easier in one area — U.K.-centered libel issues — after the British High Court ruled last Friday that that Google isn’t responsible for defamatory material trawled by its search engine. Click here and here for the WSJ and NYT stories, respectively.

Justice David Eady ruled that Google’s Internet search engine isn’t considered a publisher under defamation law, and therefore isn’t responsible for the content of the short descriptions of Web sites that appear in Google searches.

The case was initiated by Metropolitan International Schools Ltd., an online training company based in the U.K. The company had sued Google over comments posted on Web forums accusing the training company of running a scam, an allegation Metropolitan International Schools denied, according to the judgment.

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Assaulted by someone you met online? Don’t sue the website

2 07 2009

Social networks like MySpace still cannot be held responsible for assaults that happen offline, according to California’s Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. The court was asked to review the case of four underage girls (referred to as Julie Does) who, along with their parents, had sued MySpace for gross negligence and strict product liability after they were all sexually assaulted by older men whom they met on the service.

Despite the scary circumstances in which these events took place, the judge said that MySpace was protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and could not be held liable.

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Roommates.com Infects the Tenth Circuit–FTC v. Accusearch

30 06 2009

By Eric Goldman

F.T.C. v. Accusearch Inc., 2009 WL 1846344 (10th Cir. June 29, 2009). My blog post on the district court opinion.

Introduction

June has been an active month for 230 jurisprudence. Cases this month include Doe IX v. MySpace (actually a May opinion but I blogged it in June), Gibson v. Craigslist, the Barnes v. Yahoo amendment, and Zango v. Kaspersky–all defense-favorable outcomes. As I mentioned in my post on the Doe IX case, the Ninth Circuit Roommates.com en banc decision has not cast a long shadow on 230 jurisprudence; it has been cited less than 10 times in the past year, and prior to yesterday, only once in favor of the plaintiff. Unfortunately, those good times may be over. The Tenth Circuit has largely adopted the rule and reasoning of Roommates.com in FTC v. Accusearch, effectively making Roommates.com the governing law west of the Rockies.

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Doe v. MySpace–Same Case Name, Different Plaintiff, Same Result

1 06 2009

By Eric Goldman

Doe IX v. MySpace, Inc., 2009 WL 1457170 (E.D. Tex. May 22, 2009). The Justia page.

This is yet another lawsuit involving an underage sexual assault where MySpace mediated some communications between abuser and victim. The flagship decision involving this fact pattern is Doe v. MySpace, a Fifth Circuit case granting an unambiguous win to MySpace per 47 USC 230. We’re up to Doe IX v. MySpace, but the results are no different; and this case gets quickly tossed per 230 as well.

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CDA Section 230: The Law That Judges Love to Hate Takes a Hit

7 05 2009

Many attempts have been made to plead around the immunity provided to interactive computer services under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and only a very few such attempts have succeeded. Here’s one that has succeeded at least to the point of getting a remand back to the district court. The appeals court concluded that the victim of the “incedent” false profiles posted on Yahoo! by a spurned boyfriend may have a cause of action against Yahoo! for allegedly promising to remove the profiles, then failing to do so.

Barnes v. Yahoo!, Inc., No. 05-36189 (9th Cir. May 7, 2009).

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Blogspot Sued for Dead Blogger’s Content–Davis v. Google

13 04 2009

By Eric Goldman

Davis v. Google, 09 CH 15753 (Cook County Ct. complaint filed April 9, 2009)

Venkat sent a very interesting lawsuit this morning that raises some complex policy issues. The complaint alleges that Sean Healy created a blog at unknowncolumn.blogspot.com and posted defamatory content about speedskater Shani Davis’ mom, Cherie Davis.. . . The complaint further alleges that Healy is now deceased, so he can no longer remove the content on Cherie’s demand, and he did not have a “probate estate” to take over his blog. As a result, Cherie feels like she has nowhere to turn to clean up the alleged defamation, so she is suing Google’s Blogspot for a takedown injunction.

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Westchester attorney suggests bloggers do some thinking before linking.

6 04 2009

A recent “David and Goliath” type case out of Illinois has brought to light, yet again,
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