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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Google Must Identify Anonymous Blogger in Defamation Suit

A New York attorney who was the subject of online harassment from anonymous bloggers who created two websites directed at the attorney ( and succeeded in obtaining an order to compel Google to produce the names and email addresses of those who registered the blogs, as well as the IP addresses for the two blogs.  The attorney had filed a defamation lawsuit against the anonymous bloggers and was seeking their identities through court discovery procedures.  A New York Supreme Court judge ordered Google to contact the users and notify them that they have 15 days to object to the disclosure. 
In one of the blogs, the blogger calls the attorney and his firm "shady lawyers" and claims the firm is guilty of "illegal activities" and mistreatment of people.  The author of the blog (whose occupation is listed as "stopping corrupt lawyers") defends his postings by stating that they are opinion only and, therefore, protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The blogger states that he or she is "only exercising my right to speak freely and any decision you make should not be influenced by anything read on this blog, what you do is up to you!!!"
This is not an unusual order from a court.  A few years ago, a Cook County, Illinois circuit court ordered Comcast to release information regarding the identity of an anonymous online commenter in connection with a defamation lawsuit filed by a Buffalo Grove Village Trustee.  The test applied in that case was similar to that applied by the New York judge - whether the petitioner has alleged sufficient facts to support a establish a meritorious cause of action and that the information he or she seeks is necessary to the case. 
While anonymous speech is provided some protection under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that protection is not limitless.  If a plaintiff can establish a meritorious claim for defamation against an anonymous speaker, the speaker's anonymity may be short-lived as courts continue to order internet service providers to uncloak online speakers' identities. 

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