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Maryland Court Weighs Internet Anonymity

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the when-first-grade-never-ends dept.

The Courts 409

Cornwallis writes "In a First Amendment case with implications for everything from neighborhood e-mail lists to national newspapers, a Maryland businessman argued to the state's highest court yesterday that the host of an online forum should be forced to reveal the identities of people who posted allegedly defamatory comments. The businessman, Zebulon J. Brodie, contends that he was defamed by comments about his shop, a Dunkin' Donuts in Centreville, posted on NewsZap.com. The shop was described as one 'of the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen.' Talk about a Negative Nellie! At least the article didn't say the shop was the 'most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen.'"

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409 comments

Zebulon J. Brodie (0, Offtopic)

IceCreamGuy (904648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048837)

Zebulon!?!?

Re:Zebulon J. Brodie (1)

Theoboley (1226542) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048955)

What about it? My name is Zebulon, you insensitive clod!

Re:Zebulon J. Brodie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049133)

Zebulun (also Zebulon)
(in the Bible) a Hebrew patriarch, son of Jacob and Leah (Gen. 30:20).

Re:Zebulon J. Brodie (5, Funny)

PachmanP (881352) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048989)

Man that guy is an asshole. And I've been to his DD it sucks. The kitchen is nasty, and the people behind the counter are all fat kids, and there's never any waffles!

Good thing I posted this on the internet where people have learned to take everything with a grain of salt and realize that I could be from ukraine and be posting this having never been to mary's land or where ever.

Anonymity (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26048849)

Anonymity is the bane of a civilized society and should not be tolerated on the Internet.

Re:Anonymity (1, Insightful)

Terrin2k (979690) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048865)

And just when I have no mod points to shine a spotlight on this...

Re:Anonymity (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049237)

During the court case, I'd like to introduce the following [youtube.com] as evidence that privacy, indeed the need to 'not be seen' is an important and fundamental right and need for human existence!!

Re:Anonymity (1)

lupis42 (1048492) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048903)

Consider the source before marking the parent a Troll. (Flamebait, otoh, is harder to dispute).

Anyway, anonymity is worthless in political speech if it can be bypassed by the force of government.

Re:Anonymity (0, Troll)

Utini420 (444935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048931)

And that, posted anonymously.

This is such bullshit. Regardless of anything society or the internet should tolerate, why is this to forum mod's (or whatever) problem?

If you are at a party and a stranger calls you a jerk, is the host required to tell you who he was?

I don't think so.

You just got served by humor (5, Informative)

deft (253558) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049025)

The original poster was clearly making a joke by posting it anon. irony is thick and funny in that post.

oddly, this post is informative, but should be moderated as sadly informative.

Re:You just got served by humor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049287)

oddly, this post is informative, but should be moderated as sadly informative.

Like this?

You just got served by humor (Score:5, :-( Informative)

Re:Anonymity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049213)

...Jerk... ;-)

Re:Anonymity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049251)

Did your parents drop you when you were a kid, or were you always this stupid?

Re:Anonymity (1)

Reziac (43301) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049267)

"If you are at a party and a stranger calls you a jerk, is the host required to tell you who he was?"

I think that's the essential point -- gods, consider if Slashdot were forced to divulge identities (even if they knew 'em!) of everyone here who ever dissed Microsoft? I see no difference in the two situations.

BTW I love the Saki quote in your sig ... and it's SOOO true in places like slashdot. And on that note... like someone else pointed out, you missed the irony in the anonymous post. Don't be so "accurate" and you'll need fewer explanations. ;)

Re:Anonymity (2, Insightful)

johnsonav (1098915) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049389)

If you are at a party and a stranger calls you a jerk, is the host required to tell you who he was?

If you can get a subpoena, then yes... yes you can. If he just called you a jerk, well you probably won't be able to convince the judge to give you a subpoena, but if the remark rose to the standard of defamation, I don't see how you couldn't.

Anonymity in the US, aside from some very specific circumstances, has always been something of a "catch me if you can" situation. And, in my opinion, that's the way it should be. As long as when you need anonymity (and I mean really need anonymity, like from the government or evil corporate overlords), there exists some way to get the word out, the right to free speech has not been abridged, in my opinion.

Today, using the internet, anonymity is easier to obtain then ever before. If the people voicing their opinions on that web-forum really wanted to remain anonymous and insulated from the consequences of their actions, there are simple steps they could have taken so the host wouldn't even know who they were.

Please sodomize me... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049057)

My anus pulsates for you...

Here comes the Eula (4, Interesting)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048871)

In order to encourage open communication in [forum X] I agree to hold this list harmless, and waive any implied rights to defamation... blah blah blah or some such crap. Could a disclaimer/waiver hold up in court? They work for personal injury, why not "social injury"?

Re:Here comes the Eula (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049029)

Why should the dunkin donuts' owner sign/agree to such a eula, though? He need only know that he WAS defamed, even if he doesn't acquire that knowledge through the website. He can have a third party retrieve the data for his court case.

Re:Here comes the Eula (2, Funny)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049117)

How about the Eula completely encapsulating use of the site? Then the site could use the DMCA on the guy if he uses the content in open court... I think we need an opensource version of our legal system, this old one's got too many bugs.

Re:Here comes the Eula (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049279)

No good. All he need do is be informed of the statement. Once the court case is in progress he can get the actual statement via discovery. There's no way in our legal system to protect the website, other than to establish precedent that they cannot be required to produce information in such cases, which is fairly likely to be the outcome here.

Re:Here comes the Eula (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049395)

It becomes more problematic. If sites are required to produce such information, the next step is requiring that they store it.

Without precedent, it seems like web sites should be able to protect themselves by disposing of information that is not publicly posted (because laws usually aren't retroactive).

Re:Here comes the Eula (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049231)

Even if the Dunkin Donuts owner learned the identities of the people, what would it accomplish?

Last I checked defamation is protected by free speech. He would be laughed out of court.

Re:Here comes the Eula (2, Informative)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049331)

Defamation is definitely not protected speech. That's why there's a legal definition for it. Now, he would be laughed out of court because the speech in question is not defamation, but not the other way around.

Re:Here comes the Eula (4, Insightful)

innerweb (721995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049357)

First, it needs to be determined if he was defamed. Maybe the accusations are true. Maybe the standards of the person who posted are higher than his store's standards. Maybe he is mad because he is being called out on something that he does not want to admit. Or maybe he does have a case and his is a clean and proper store. That is the first thing that needs to be determined. After that, if there is a case at that point, then talk about revealing who it is.

I have worked in the food industry. I have seen what some places will let pass and it is disgusting. There are several restaurants in the local area that I tell people to avoid due to the sanitation and quality issues.

I don't know whether or not the owner has done this, but the proper response of the owner would have been to contact the person via the board (if possible) and discover what the experience of that person was. We call this customer relations/service. A law suit like this is likely to only harm the reputation of the store owner. It will cause people who visit the store to focus even more on the same issues the *anonymous* party is focusing on.

InnerWeb

European or African? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26048879)

Doesn't that affect the weight?

Give me their names. (5, Insightful)

FredFredrickson (1177871) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048883)

I should be allowed to silence dissent. I should be able to bully people through seemingly legal means so that their use of the first ammendment doesn't go unpunished. The first step is getting their names.

If they've done nothing wrong, there's nothing to hide, right?

Re:Give me their names. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26048957)

Re:Give me their names. (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049105)

Election funding should be public information, and where your political actions are obviously immoral, you should be prepared to be boycotted for your actions.

Frankly, a boycott of businesses that decide to spend their money on immorality is well warranted. Anti-rights businesses deserve to lose money. We don't need those people around, best if they lose everything and starve to death.

Re:Give me their names. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26048973)

If your store is clean and tidy, why be bothered with other people are saying?

Re:Give me their names. (3, Interesting)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049341)

Freedom of speech is important and required, but with that comes responsibility. The moment you use your freedoms to hurt someone, without legitimate basis (defamation) you are wrong.
So if you want to say some shop is dirty, bad, etc - then you better offer up some proof. Otherwise you can get sued. This is nothing new - it has been going on for many years - why should the Internet be a place for people to spread malicious information without suffering the penalty? It shouldn't.

Re:Give me their names. (4, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049383)

If they've done nothing wrong, there's nothing to hide, right?

This is where it gets sticky.

The store owner is claiming that they defamed him. The store owner (just like every other American) has legal protection from slander and libel. The only way to (legally) know for sure is to take the speakers to trial. It could be that they are not guilty of anything, or it could be that they are guilty of liable. But the only way to know for sure is to allow the shop owner to sue them.

But who can he sue? John Doe? Even if John Doe is convicted of liable in abstinencia (err what ever it is called when you are tried with out being present) who would they punish for it? Libel I believe is just a tort, a civil crime. So no one is going to be arrested, and it is unlikely that an over worked DA is going to do a whole lot for you.

Was it Jefferson who said, "Your right to swing your fist ends where the rights of my nose begin"?

Same basic deal, your right to free speech ends when your words impead other peoples rights.

Hate speech, inflammatory speech, screaming fire in a crowded theater, libel, slander... your speech is already limited.

"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech" != You can make false statements that harm another person.

Or if you'd like to switch it up a bit, I can exercise my 1st amendment rights as many people around here seem to think of them to inform your family, coworkers, significant other, x-girl friends, and neighbors that you are actually an un-register sex offender that has aids.

I mean, it's the first amendment right? I can say what ever I want with absolutely no repercussions, right? /sarcasm

-Rick

Elephant in the room attack! (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048885)

"We don't like your comment about some random Dunkin Donuts. Please turn over your entire internet history so that anyone on the planet can sue you for defamation."

Re:Elephant in the room attack! (3, Insightful)

mewshi_nya (1394329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048951)

The thing is, if the owner just cleaned it up, he could use that as GREAT marketing.

But, instead, he chose to sue, so now he looks like a dick.

WTF (4, Insightful)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048905)

I didn't know opinion was liable.

Re:WTF (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049077)

I didn't know opinion was liable.

What if the person who wrote it was the owner of a competing donut shop, and his/her intent was to diminish the reputation of the establishment.

Re:WTF (4, Insightful)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049111)

Competitors aren't allowed to have opinions?

Personally I don't see how it would be possible to diminish the reputation of Dunkin Donuts further than it already is... but that's just me.

Re:WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049165)

Yeah, has anybody noticed how long it takes for them to make a damn coffee? And then you get one with a random number of creamers or sugars!? I asked for a Large Iced Coffee, with 2 and 2, and I always get A Large iced with random amounts of crap.

And don't get me started on their operations model! I have to tell them my order once at the drive through menu, once again at the window.. and then once again 5 minutes later when they still haven't figured out what I wanted. Then I get a cup and a bag with marker writing all over it, because that's how they "do" ordering there. No computer system, no paper and pen. Just plain memory + sharpies.

Now, let's see dunkin donuts sue me.

Re:WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049141)

it's not. if you said you thought this or that place was dirty, filthy, rudely staffed, etc. what could anyone possibly do? you're not entitled to an opinion? here's mine: time for the revolution, in my opinion. time to pull down the craven, blood-sucking lawyers who've proclaimed themselves leaders of the people by usurping our sacred constitutional rights, usually in the name of protecting us or bringing justice and mercy to the wasteland culture they've worked so diligently to spawn. time to see what color the blood of freedom parasites really is -- just to make sure it goes well with the color of the new flag (well, the old flag is good -- but we need a new pirate banner to get some respect.)

Re:WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049335)

It can make the speaker liable for slander. The rationale is thus:

If we can agree that X is slanderous if said, a speaker shouldn't be able to just say, "I think X," as a get out of jail free card. Similarly, to prevent the spread by print, newspapers are liable for libel if they print, "Y said X." The purpose is to stop the spread of X, which we've already agreed is maliciously false and damaging. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

Now if you're instead arguing that someone's held opinion cannot be slanderous, you're wrong there too. Some things are maliciously false, and harmful to another person, even if they're just your opinion. How about if the poster had said: "This place is so filthy, in my opinion, it couldn't just be natural. I think they're intentionally making it unsanitary." That's just an opinion, but I hope we can agree it would be damaging to the business, and could be proven false.

Opinions aren't magically protected speech. Harming another person with words -- which is a recognized legal concept -- is punishable.

Please keep in mind I'm only talking about actual slanderous activity. When it's harmless or trivial speech, of course, it's perfectly fine to hold and announce as you opinion. Whether that's the case in the article or not is irrelevant to the parent's question and my answer.

Good luck with that privacy thing (4, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048917)

I think we have lost that right for the most part. Or rather we have been giving it away at every turn.

No mention however (5, Insightful)

Gat0r30y (957941) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048919)

Of whether the dunkin donuts was actually dirty. Has this Brodie dude even provided the court with evidence that his establishment isn't unsanitary-looking? I mean, what if these weren't just a couple trolls, but real customers who saw that this particular dunkin donuts was really nasty?

Cheap lawyers? (5, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049009)

whether the dunkin donuts was actually dirty

If that's the case, wouldn't it have been cheaper to hire a janitor, instead of a lawyer?

Re:Cheap lawyers? (2, Insightful)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049227)

whether the dunkin donuts was actually dirty

If that's the case, wouldn't it have been cheaper to hire a janitor, instead of a lawyer?

You can't pay a janitor with contingency fees.

Re:Cheap lawyers? (2, Insightful)

innerweb (721995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049397)

Ego gets so many people into trouble that way. Ego does not care about cost, only about feeling good (revenge?)

InnerWeb

Re:No mention however (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049169)

Technically it's the responsibility of the person who stated the comments to prove truth, not the other way around.

That said, I agree with the other posts here: if the comment was stated as the summary says it was, it's an opinion, not a statement of fact, and thus can't be considered defamation.

Re:No mention however (5, Informative)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049269)

That's not how it works.

The business has to be able to prove that the comment caused financial damage, and sue for recovery of that damage. It is difficult to win that kind of case. Just ask anyone who tried to sue for negative feedback received on Ebay, claiming the negative hurt their business - so far no one's ever won.

Re:No mention however (0, Troll)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049365)

Of whether the dunkin donuts was actually dirty. Has this Brodie dude even provided the court with evidence that his establishment isn't unsanitary-looking? I mean, what if these weren't just a couple trolls, but real customers who saw that this particular dunkin donuts was really nasty?
So you support someone from making disparaging remarks about an establishment and now that establishment has to prove those remarks as wrong? Isn't our society based on "innocent until proven guilty"? How about the folks who posted those comments show proof (e.g. pictures, audio recordings, etc)? If you make a comment prove it, then the defenders can refute your statements.

Someone Post Pictures Now! (3, Funny)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048927)

"The question of the state of cleanliness is a material fact in the issue. Someone please post ZoeTroped pictures of the restaurant so that we may see its condition. It's only defamation if it's false."

Re:Someone Post Pictures Now! (2, Informative)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049157)

You would need to see all the food service places the commenter had seen, and rank them according to "dirty and unsanitary-looking"ness and then determine where the cutoff is for "one of the most".

The language is so vague it is meaningless...

Re:Someone Post Pictures Now! (2, Informative)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049179)

Even if it is pretty clean or pretty dirty, the original poster is safe since he stated it in relative terms to his personal experience of other establishments. Just because he normally eats at 4 star restaurants and wandered into a DD by mistake does not invalidate his opinion.

Re:Someone Post Pictures Now! (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049259)

incorrect. It is never false. It can always be true since it is based upon one person's opinion and his experience of never having seen a dirtier place.

Therefore, it is always true and not defamatory.

Re:Someone Post Pictures Now! (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049363)

You could always get a subpoena requiring his mom to reveal what his room in the basement looks like. Assuming she's still paying for his electricity, it's safe to say he's seen it.

the arguments continued... (1)

deft (253558) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048945)

the arguments continued... that Zebulon would bring down a fleet of Vogon constructor ships upon the first ammendment if he should not be pleased.

I posted that weak ass hitchhiker reference just because I was hoping to be one of the first people to say something diparaging without being anon... posting anon coward would be too obvious. perhaps the forums should use the coward moniker..seems to really put people in their place here!

Well that, and Zebulon really made me think of mork from orc... :)

Looks like Homer is real. (0, Flamebait)

RemoWilliams84 (1348761) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048963)

Now it all makes sense. His remark: "one 'of the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen.'" is obviously because Homer Simpson was in there giving to Lisa and Bart in some sort of orgy. Was this Dunkin' Donuts in Australia, because I think that judge was onto something. Maybe they weren't drawings, but polaroids.

Does that mean.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26048965)

.. I'll have to reveal myself?

Simple case (1)

hypergreatthing (254983) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048967)

Stating an opinion is not defamatory.

I think bush is the worst president we've ever had.

Should i be expected to be sued by bush for defaming his name?

Re:Simple case (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049041)

Not sued, but there's a black helicopter headed your way and a cell being prepared in Guantanamo Bay...

Re:Simple case (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049113)

Sweet! I won't have to work for my food and shelter ever again!

Re:Simple case (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049379)

Your daily beatings, waterboarding, and other assorted tortures will all be provided gratis as well!

Re:Simple case (1)

mewshi_nya (1394329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049071)

This is needs to get over it.

He appears to not understand that suing over this will only serve to legitimize the claims.

Not only that, being on the internet makes it no more damaging than a friend saying "That dunkin' donuts sucks, dude..."

And he just makes himself look like a total dick by doing this.

Thank Christ (-1, Offtopic)

BigJClark (1226554) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048975)


Thank christ Maryland isn't the center of the known universe. Maryland can do whatever the hell it feels like, and all the citizens can cow down to its respective governments, but as for me, Mr xxxx yyyyy, I will revel in my internet anonymity.

Re:Thank Christ (1)

qwertphobia (825473) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049067)

Thank christ Maryland isn't the center of the known universe. Maryland can do whatever the hell it feels like, and all the citizens can cow down to its respective governments, but as for me, Mr xxxx yyyyy, I will revel in my internet anonymity.

That's easy for you to say. I have to go through Maryland on my way to the beach!

Great use of funds. (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048985)

Instead of hiring a legal team, wouldn't that money be better spent, oh, I don't know, fixing up your store?!

There're reasons I won't go to any fast food place other than In-N-Out. One is I have yet to enter one where I felt the urge to break out saniwipes if I accidentally touched a table.

Customer service is dead. Next he'll be suing people because they're shopping at a competitor...

Maybe... (2, Informative)

himurabattousai (985656) | more than 5 years ago | (#26048991)

he should be more worried about the actual conditions of his store. I'm not naive enough to think that people don't use the internet to cause trouble, but if the comment is echoed throughout the forum, he's most likely got a problem on his hands. He may not like someone coming out and saying that his store is filthy, but if the comment is true, then this falls under the realm of informing citizens.

Somehow, I doubt he wants the poster's name and address to send him coupons.

Legal Innoculation? (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049003)

... Why him?

Why does some second tier fast food owner bring up one of the biggest precedent setting cases ever?

Can he be bringing up a weak version of a precedent setting case to angle for a pro-rights victory?

Re:Legal Innoculation? (3, Interesting)

Reziac (43301) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049299)

I'm also wondering why, if the allegation is that untrue or that actionable, the franchise company doesn't come to his aid??

Seems to me if there was really a case here, Dunkin' Donuts Inc. would be first in line at the legal office.

what constitutes defamation in Maryland? (5, Insightful)

Glimmerdark (1229958) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049011)

obviously the article and summary don't state exactly what the posters in question were talking about. but from what was given, - is there really any defamation going on? can the plaintiff prove that the statement was untrue? this comment was back in 06. the state of his store -now- hold little bearing on comments made 2 years ago. on top of that, the post seems highly opinionated. it's very possible that the poster's history with food service doesn't include many with less than pleasant standards. if that was the case, would the comment not be truly stated? and can a true statement be defamation in maryland? IANAL, so it's a serious question. and if there was no defamation, why bother with determining the first amendment standing of the issue, when there may well be no issue?

Dunkin' Donuts in Centreville (1, Interesting)

frost_knight (885804) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049023)

Huh. I picked up coffee and an egg sandwich from that very establishment yesterday morning. The place was spotless. Then again, it was the first time I've ever been there.

Re:Dunkin' Donuts in Centreville (1)

lecanucker (945957) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049125)

You're defaming the original Defamer! quick, CmdrTaco, reveal his true identity!! But Not mine, as I am acting in the public interest by exposing defamers.

Re:Dunkin' Donuts in Centreville (1)

davebo357 (730081) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049159)

Based on this comment by frost_knight, I stopped by the same Dunkin' Donuts and found the conditions to be disgusting relative to my standards. I also got a brain freeze from their coffee coolatta that is affecting my ability to work. I demand slashdot reveal frost_knight's true identity so that I same sue for damages! This is simply how we roll here in Maryland. Go Terps!

Um, no... (4, Interesting)

kabocox (199019) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049033)

I'm actually ticked at my local health inspector because they don't make this easy for my city. It's easy to look up this sort of info at other places
http://www.txkusa.org/health/Food_Report.pdf [txkusa.org]

Here is the real slashdot test. What did this guy happen to score on his local health inspection and how easy is that for his usual customers to obtain and see his results?

I actually think the judge needs to throw this right out. This is an opinion about a food serving place and it isn't even that harsh. If he doesn't want to hear what his customers think of his place, then he doesn't need to listen to them. Maybe, just maybe he needs to clean up his shop and present a better public image for his customers?

I wouldn't be surprised if his competitors are eating him alive.

Re:Um, no... (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049283)

actually think the judge needs to throw this right out. This is an opinion about a food serving place and it isn't even that harsh. If he doesn't want to hear what his customers think of his place, then he doesn't need to listen to them. Maybe, just maybe he needs to clean up his shop and present a better public image for his customers?

It's so much easier to sue a single website for defamation (and hopefully make a few thousands in damages in the process) than to actually clean up your restaurant and serve halfway decent food (which costs effort and money). It's the law of the least effort, it works as well on people as it does on atoms and chemical reactions.

Maybe I'm missing something here (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049073)

The only people who have the ability to resuse to testify or give evidence are priests, spouses, and various other job classifications. As far as I know, ISP owner isn't one of them.

A subpoena is a subpoena. I will agree that courts have been issuing them inappropriately in some cases, but I don't see how this qualifies.

Re:Maybe I'm missing something here (1)

DeadManCoding (961283) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049161)

Just because you get served with a subpoena, doesn't mean that you have to immediately comply with it. In this case, the DD guy wants the names of the "intar-web posters". The newspaper place says fuck you, their opinion and right to post opinion is covered under the first amendment. Somehow, this one will end up far beyond just the Maryland SC.

Re:Maybe I'm missing something here (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049327)

The problem is that the question of whether it was a statement of opinion or fact is what needs to be adjudicated. The text in question doesn't say "I believe" or I think"; it says it isthe dirtiest restaurant he's ever seen. The wording is ambiguous - if taken literally, the Plaintiff would need to find the other restaurants the defendant has seen and compare filth levels. If they find one that's dirtier, then the defendant was stating an untruth. Or it could just be an opinion. But that's what the case was about. I don't say the case has merit, but it's there.

As for 1st amendment considerations, it wasn't political speech or the other categories most often associated with it.

"the most...I have seen" (2, Informative)

Linux987 (106521) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049089)

I don't understand how this could be a problem. He didn't falsely claim the store poisoned him or anything, he just simply stated out of the stores he's seen, it was one of the most dirty. That's just an opinion, and as far as I know we're still allowed to voice our opinion.

He's only arguing it to Marylands highest court... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049091)

...because he was already shot down by every other court governing his precinct in Maryland. A lot of people bring crazy cases to supreme courts.

Citation needed? (3, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049093)

Opinions are not statements of fact, something that apparently escapes even the highest court in Maryland. Slander and libel are passing off false statements as fact. This is why in the newspaper you always hear about the alleged crime, or how the government may be involved in massive surveillance domestically, or that the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field(tm) could be real.

Hopefully the court will realize that one person making his/her own opinion known in a public forum (anonymously or otherwise) does not constitute a malicious attempt to degrade the reputation of another. If not, we may have to bump Florida from the 2008 dumbest judiciary system award.

Re:Citation needed? (2, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049233)

Opinions are not statements of fact, something that apparently escapes even the highest court in Maryland.

The highest court hasn't ruled yet. And the question isn't about the merit of the libel claim anyway; it's about whether the plaintiff should have to demonstrate that merit before obtaining the identity of the defendant.

IMO, even if taken as an absolute factual statement (which it was not), the claim is not provable either way -- there's no way the plaintiff can show the restaurant was not dirty and "unsanitary-looking" at the time the defendant saw it. And IANAL but I think the burden is on the plaintiff to show that the defamatory statement was false.

Where does the judge get his/her authority here? (2, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049145)

NewsZip.com is registered in Delaware, and this is a state court from another state, attempting to impose a court order outside of its jurisdiction. What, pray tell, gives them a basis to even think about doing this? I'd like to see the federal statute...

Re:Where does the judge get his/her authority here (2, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049249)

NewsZip.com is registered in Delaware, and this is a state court from another state, attempting to impose a court order outside of its jurisdiction.

Increasingly (and scarily) jurisdiction is being extended through some pretty tenuous reasoning.

That whole Lori Drew case was a woman in Missouri being sued in Los Angeles -- because the servers are located there.

Sadly, the internet seems to have created cases where lawmakers still say "well, you're guilty here" -- which is kind of scary. Just think, there is a precedent in the US which allows you to be subject to the laws of a jurisdiction you don't live in and possibly have never visited.

One of these days, any international travel might risk you being apprehended by on the basis that something you posted online is illegal in that country and you have been found guilty in absentia!

Cheers

Prove the allegation first (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049193)

My opinion: the judge should require the plaintiff here to first prove that the statements were defamatory. You don't need to know who said them to do that, the statements stand on their own. Once the owner has a ruling that the statements were in fact defamatory, then demand the identity of the person who made them so they can be held to account for them.

Re:Prove the allegation first (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049285)

Do you not believe accusing a food service establishment of being unsanitary is not defamtory? What sort of places to you eat at, anyway?

Or are you trying to say that it is only defamatory if untrue?

Nothing sacred about speech on the internet. (2, Insightful)

lordsegan (637315) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049195)

As a law student, it seems *entirely* prudent to me that a business man should be able to get a subpoena to get the IPs and names of people who are posting defamatory comments on the internet (assuming they are in fact defamatory). That said, NOTHING should prevent a person from being able to make anonymous posts. It is only IF your posts break the law that you should be "discoverable". Likewise, a person should be able to rant and rave about the government as much as they want. But if they make a post advocating an assassination, they face discovery of their IP/name. Seems 100% reasonable.

Re:Nothing sacred about speech on the internet. (1)

pm_rat_poison (1295589) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049275)

Yeah, but this doesn't cover matters of opinion. For example, I could claim that "restaurant X is the worst I've ever been to, and I don't recommend anyone going there"

Tortous interference? (3, Informative)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049265)

That is usually what it is called when you are doing something that affects a business in a negative manner. Slander and libel are problematic because even though we are all "journalists" now, the publishing of an opinion probably doesn't carry that much weight.

The question is more likely can you have an unmoderated forum of nothing but negative comments about businesses without ever incurring legal liability? For most of the history of the world, the answer has been no, you can't. Today, with the Internet the operator of the forum may be hard to find, too hard for an assembly of people with torches and buckets of tar to locate and deliver punishment.

I'd think that the operator of the forum can either shield participants and take all the heat or serve up the participants and hope nobody actually sues them. In today's world, betting you will not be sued is a very risky bet.

LAME! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26049329)

Following the logic on this argument would mean that on the streets when you flip someone off or yell out some odd obscenity you would have to follow it with your name and address...ala:

"Thanks for cutting in front of me asshole...you dumb ass motherfucker...IM RICK WARRAN and I LIVE AT 212228 xxxx!!!!"

scary judges (1)

Eil (82413) | more than 5 years ago | (#26049409)

The scariest part is that these case is absurd on a number of levels, but at least one judge so far thinks this Zebulon J. Brodie whackjob actually had a valid point.

First off, the First Amendment protects freedom of expression. We're not all the way there yet, but most intelligent people (including many judges) agree that anonymity is essential to guarantee free speech without fear of reprisal. One exception of course is for libelous or defamatory statements but those do NOT include negative criticism framed as opinion.

The statement "[one] of the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen," is very clearly an opinion by the author and he or she is making a personal judgment of the place in comparison to other food-service stores.

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