Court orders Google to reveal blogger in defamation case

Judge rejects the blogger's claim that the writing consisted of 'personal opinions, including invective and ranting,' rather than factual assertions

A model described as being among "The Skankiest in NYC" by a user of Google's Blogger service has won a court battle to obtain the anonymous poster's identity.

Liskula Cohen, who has posed for the cover of Vogue, told ABC News that she's willing to forgive the blogger -- an acquaintance, but not someone close -- but Cohen's attorney says they plan to file a defamation suit.

[ InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely asks "Is this the end of free speech on the Net?" | Keep up on the day's tech news headlines with InfoWorld's Today's Headlines: First Look newsletter and InfoWorld Daily podcast. ]

Google initially fought to keep the blogger's identity secret. A judge ordered Google to hand over an IP address, rejecting the blogger's claim that the writing consisted of "personal opinions, including invective and ranting," rather than factual assertions.

(By the way, if you're ever looking to remove some defaming content from the Internet and don't want to sue, check out our tips for addressing the problem yourself.)

Protection of anonymous speech is, as you'd expect, a knotty issue. Protections for anonymous bloggers vary by state, so a lawsuit in California might not pan out the same way as a suit in New York. In some cases, the plaintiff needs to only prove that the request to unmask the blogger is being made in good faith, and not simply for harassment purposes, according to the Citizen Media Law Project. In other cases, the plaintiff has to show evidence that harm has been done.

That's where it gets a little tricky. In a case from 2005, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned a decision to reveal a blogger's identity, after the person accused a local politician of having "an obvious mental deterioration." A second posting said the politician "is as paranoid as everyone in the town thinks he is."

The court favored the blogger, fearing that unmasking him or her would have a chilling effect on anonymous speech. Furthermore, the court said that blogs often provide an open forum for the offended party to respond directly to the original posts.

More recently, a Maryland court protected anonymous posters on a newspaper's Internet forum, after a local Dunkin' Donuts store manager claimed they were defaming him by calling the restaurant dirty. The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed an earlier decision to reveal the posters' identity, but laid out a five-step process for judges to follow in future defamation cases, including alerting anonymous posters of a subpoena by a message on the site in question, and offering a clear statement of how the inflammatory comments caused damage.

Cohen noted that the offending blog made it harder for her to find work, as the blog and accompanying photos often came up in job interviews. She claims the statements of her being "skanky" and a "ho" go against her "serial monogamist" nature. As the case was ruled by the New York State Supreme Court -- the highest civil trial court in the state -- it's likely that the decision will stick, assuring that the debate on anonymous Internet speech is far from over.

This story, "Court orders Google to reveal blogger in defamation case" was originally published by PCWorld.

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