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MD Appellate Ct. Sets "New Standard" For Anonymous Posting

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the or-you-could-just-clean-the-place-up dept.

The Courts 260

A Maryland court of appeals has set what they are calling a new "standard that should be applied to balance the First Amendment right to anonymous speech on the Internet with the opportunity on the part of the object of that speech to seek judicial redress for alleged defamation." The court overturned an earlier ruling that would have required NewsZap.com to turn over the names of anonymous posters who posted negative remarks about the cleanliness of a Centreville Dunkin' Donuts. "In a defamation case involving anonymous speakers, the ruling said, courts should first require the plaintiff to try to notify the anonymous posters that they are the subject of a subpoena. That notification could come in the form of a message posted to the online forum in question, and the posters must be given sufficient time to respond. The plaintiff must then hand over the exact statements in question, so the court can decide whether the comments are obviously defamatory. Finally, the ruling says, the court must weigh the anonymous poster's right to free speech against the strength of the defamation case and the necessity of disclosing the poster's identity."

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wow... (5, Insightful)

YouWantFriesWithThat (1123591) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041603)

that ruling actually makes sense. there is no way that it will be allowed to stand!

Re:wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041755)

You stole my thunder. I'd mod you up if I had points...

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041831)

No, it does not. An anonymous statement holds no weight and thus cannot be defamatory. At least, not enough to rise to the level of court intervention. These types of cases should be thrown out (without wasting all this effort) and our government's resources put to better use. And Dunkin' Donuts needs to grow a pair.

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041917)

I'd agree with you, but well, you posted as an AC and thus have no weight in this discussion. Too bad.

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042143)

That's right! That's why I lie and create an assumed name to post under. Now, I have much more credibility and weight than an AC!

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042291)

You and an AC have equal credibility, thus my indirect point. The OP indicated that somehow an AC comment means less (i.e. has no weight) when in reality, hardly anyone ever takes into account who said something, just what was said.

The Maryland decision is a good one. It provides the courts the ability to weigh the comments themselves before deciding to revoke someone's anonymity. The 'warning' part doesn't really matter. The part that matters, to me, is the fact that before disclosure is required, the courts are actually looking at the claim rather than simply accepting on face value from the plaintiff that the statements are defamatory.

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042613)

The part that matters, to me, is the fact that before disclosure is required, the courts are actually looking at the claim rather than simply accepting on face value from the plaintiff that the statements are defamatory.

But on the other hand, how can the claim be evaluated without the anonymous writer being there to defend it? I worry that this could turn into "pre-trying" the defendant before he's identified -- after all, if you've already decided that the statement is defamatory enough to identify the writer, then you're right on the edge of deciding that the writer is guilty, too. It would suck if the court improperly decided to identify the writer, and then he didn't get a fair trial due to the lingering presumption of guilt.

(No, I don't have a solution for this.)

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041949)

No, it does not. An anonymous statement holds no weight and thus cannot be defamatory.

If an anonymous statement holds no weight, then why is journalism filled with "anonymous sources say" and "unnamed government officials state"?
Just because you don't give any weight to anonymous statements doesn't mean the rest of the world ignores them.

Ultimately it is an issue of trust.
Most people are willing to trust an anonymous statement if it is not extreme and seems to mesh with their pre-existing world view.

Re:wow... (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042023)

Most people are willing to trust an anonymous statement if it is not extreme and seems to mesh with their pre-existing world view.

Many if not most are also willing to at least examine the potential veracity of an anonymous statement, especially if it comes with some sort of substantiating evidence.

Re:wow... (4, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042531)

Many if not most are also willing to at least examine the potential veracity of an anonymous statement, especially if it comes with some sort of substantiating evidence

I don't know if that's actually true - especially in the sort of context that's being discussed.

Let's say you're on the road, and Googling for a couple of quick restaurant reviews in the town you're headed to, looking for a place to take your family for pizza before you drive on. Joe's Pizza comes up, looking swell. And Tony's Pizza is right there next to, complete with an anonymous "review" (by Joe!) that says Tony's Pizza is famous for kitchen staff that don't wash their hands, even though there have been several cases of hepatitis traced back to that restaurant.

You're on your damn iPhone, trying to decide where to sit down for a pizza. Are you REALLY going to "examine the veracity" of what seems to be a local patron's take on a seedy restaurant... or are you just going to click the screen and have your iPhone tell you how to get to Joe's, instead of Tony's? What if only ten percent of people do that? Wouldn't you say that Tony has a case for finding out who's slandering him, and costing him business? Or do you propose an anonymous flame war as a way to level the playing field? Because all that does is raise the overall noise level, and achieve nothing. Someone who acts with malice in a public forum - and specifically tells lies about someone in a deliberate effort to harm them - has every reason to expect that a judge will help the target of that malice get to the bottom of it.

Anonymous means... REALLY anonymous. (2, Insightful)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042147)

"... courts should first require the plaintiff to try to notify the anonymous posters that they are the subject of a subpoena. That notification could come in the form of a message posted to the online forum in question, and the posters must be given sufficient time to respond."

The court does not understand what "anonymous" means in the context of online posting. It means, at least in some cases, "You will never know who did it."

Before courts rule or Congress makes new laws, the proposed new ideas should be posted on Slashdot. There are plenty of teenagers who read Slashdot who would be willing to show why the new ideas don't make sense. Most of the new ideas are so ignorant that there's no need for the rest of us to even get involved.

Re:Anonymous means... REALLY anonymous. (2, Informative)

srleffler (721400) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042655)

If there is no hope of knowing who did it, then the question is moot. The issue here is that in many cases there is an entity that can identify the anonymous poster, such as an ISP or the operator of the website on which the comment was posted. The court has the power to compel that entity to reveal the anonymous poster's identity. This decision sets out rules for when it is appropriate for the court to do that.

Re:wow... (2, Informative)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042217)

Anonymous sources in journalism aren't supposed to be used frequently because they are unreliable. In the rare circumstance where they are appropriate it is the name of the journalist who wrote the article who gives credibility to the statements. A journalist who overuses anonymous statements will rightfully have little credibility.

Re:wow... (1)

The Cisco Kid (31490) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042293)

If a statement is not 'extreme' and already meshes with the pre-existing world-view of a certain threshold of 'most people', there is a good chance that it is true, and if it is true it is not defamatory.

Re:wow... (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042297)

If an anonymous statement holds no weight, then why is journalism filled with "anonymous sources say"

When a Journalist issues a statement from an anonymous source, you only give it credibility if the specific Journalist is credible to you. An online anonymous user shouldn't have the same credibility as an anonymous source quoted by Walter Cronkite.

Re:wow... (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042325)

If an anonymous statement holds no weight, then why is journalism filled with "anonymous sources say" and "unnamed government officials state"?

Because the journalist is giving the statements weight by repeating them.

Re:wow... (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042547)

Just because you don't give any weight to anonymous statements doesn't mean the rest of the world ignores them.

You've missed the sarcasm.

Grandparent does not actually give zero weight to AC. It is great-grandparent who says he gives zero weight to AC, while posting AC. Hence the humor.

Re:wow... (5, Interesting)

causality (777677) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041951)

No, it does not. An anonymous statement holds no weight and thus cannot be defamatory. At least, not enough to rise to the level of court intervention. These types of cases should be thrown out (without wasting all this effort) and our government's resources put to better use. And Dunkin' Donuts needs to grow a pair.

I agree. All this means is that anonymous posters need to start using Tor and other technologies because otherwise, they will find you if they want to do it badly enough.

If it were up to me, the right to anonymous free speech would greatly outweigh the right to sue someone for libel. That would even mean eliminating the ability to sue an anonymous user for libel. I'd much rather people finally learn, once and for all, to never believe anything they see or hear or read without first confirming it themselves or testing whether it's consistent with what they already know to be true. I'd much much rather see that happen than try to use the courts to track down and sue every last false source of information. It's like a "default-allow" firewall versus a "default deny".

Re:wow... (1)

YouWantFriesWithThat (1123591) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041963)

not really. if they can prove damages based on a statement made anonymously then the statement did hold weight. this case is garbage, but not all defamation cases are similarly baseless. also, this has nothing to do with the corporation, it was the franchisee that was suing.

besides, you are posting anonymous, were modded up, and i am responding to you...so anonymous comments hold some weight

Re:wow... (4, Informative)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042167)

An anonymous statement holds no weight and thus cannot be defamatory.

This specific ruling disagrees with you, page 17:

The anonymity of speech, however, is not absolute and may be limited by defamation considerations. Beauharnais v. Illinois

In this case, the court held that 3 of the defendants made no defamatory statements so their identities should not be revealed. The other 2 did make defamatory remarks but were not sued by the plaintiff before the statute of limitations ran out and thus should not identified.

Re:wow... (2, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042179)

An anonymous statement holds no weight

I've had my feelings hurt plenty of times by very mean anonymous cowards who for no good reason refuse to believe that the earth is flat. The joke will be on them though when they fall off the edge of the earth.

Re:wow... (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042263)

An anonymous statement holds no weight and thus cannot be defamatory. At least, not enough to rise to the level of court intervention.

Surely it must conceivably be possible that someone may say something on an anonymous forum that people will take to be the truth, yet is totally unfair and does severe damage to someone's reputation. I doubt typical forum posts have this level of weight behind them.

But there should be a prima-facie argument that they are defamatory first. The plaintiff must be required to show harm has been done and that the post is untrue.

Re:wow... (4, Insightful)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042463)

How do they even determine that the anonymous posting is in their jurisdiction?

Re:wow... (1)

dotmax (642602) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042517)

And yet... your comment was modded up to +5 Insightful.

Are you truly unaware of the broad and historic role of he anonymous whistleblower?

Is it truly reasonable to think that only truthful anonymous comments have power? Let's take a look at any random 100 falsities in Snopes, although personally, i'd recommend we start with search=Obama, but i suppose we could try vaccination-->autism. etc. etc. etc.

Re:wow... (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041925)

woooh there! This is slashdot, anything that impedes free-speech is Bad, no matter how reasonable, didn't you get the memo?

Re:wow... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042207)

Slashdot math time!

One person wholly theoretically wanting to safely post about his government/business/whatever and has a legitimate reason to require anonymity is far, far greater than the thousands of administrators having to clean up the mess left by the tens of thousands of asshats per one person on the other side of the equation abusing the anonymity system, plus the inability to block them without blocking the entire anonymity network*, plus the users harassed by the asshats, plus the bandwidth and processing power wasted by the asshats, plus the asshats using said anonymity to issue cyberattacks.

Sure, there's something to be said about altruism and sticking up for the guy who's got it tough and all, but there's a point where you're letting people destroy the city so one guy can use the toilet in peace.

*: But OBVIOUSLY we shouldn't be allowed to block the entire network, because one geek sitting in his basement HAS to be anonymous, else They(tm) are gonna get him, and we can't have THAT, can we?

They are all gay (4, Funny)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041641)

The Maryland Supreme Court justices are all gay and have orgies after the last case of the day. I've seen them ship in goats and pigs to add spice to these events.

It's true. They are all perverts and touch themselves in public.

Re:They are all gay (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041719)

To whom it concerns

We are giving you notice that you, BadAnalogyGuy, will be the subject of a subpoena. You have 14 days to respond.

- Maryland Supreme Court

P.S. And you're gayer.

Re:They are all gay (3, Funny)

Hordeking (1237940) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041953)

To whom it concerns

We are giving you notice that you, BadAnalogyGuy, will be the subject of a subpoena. You have 14 days to respond.

- Maryland Supreme Court

P.S. And you're gayer.

On second thought, maybe he should've posted AC.

To the Maryland Supreme Court (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042035)

Oooh oooh I know what you do now- highlight the post and hit Ctrl-C and send it to

Maryland Court of Appeals
Judge Adkins, J., Judge Robert C. Murphy, Judge Barbera JJ
Courts of Appeal Building
361 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

to determine if the post is -1, Obviously Defamatory.

Re:They are all gay (1)

csartanis (863147) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041773)

You really hate free speech that much? Please accept my pity.

Re:They are all gay (4, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041889)

Insults are usually not considered defamation. The more outrageous the insult, the less likely it is for anyone to believe it to be true, and the less likely it is to actually cause damages to the offended party. Purely by posting anonymously, you are greatly reducing your credibility, which means the other party is going to have to show some pretty clear evidence that your writings were the ones that people believed.

Now, if you happened to be a clerk working for the MD Supreme Court and you were in a position to say such things as fact instead of just wild accusations, then you might be liable for defamation/libel.

-Rick

The Big Lie (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042363)

Right, the lawyers around here will clarify, but there is a principle in law that if the lie is big enough, you aren't liable. Thus, a hamburger shop can say that it has the "Best" burgers and it doesn't have to prove it.

Re:The Big Lie (1)

Translation Error (1176675) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042617)

It's not so much that you can claim to have the "Best" burgers because it's a huge and obvious lie so much as that it's a matter of opinion.

Ah its Maryland... (-1, Offtopic)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041643)

If they had invented the toothbrush anywhere but in Maryland, they would have called it the teethbrush.

This is really dumb... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041753)

Suing an anonymous poster for defamation is idiotic. Anonymous posts should carry very little weight on the part of the reader since there is no way to authenticate the veracity of the ports.

This should get kicked by the defense attorneys as bogus even before the name is revealed.

Besides, the owner of the Dunkin should just respond that the allegations are untrue any anyone who wants to can come down and see for themselves.

Re:This is really dumb... (2, Funny)

ubrgeek (679399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041811)

In the matter of KDawson vs. Anonymous Coward, the court rules in favor of ... :)

Re:This is really dumb... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042337)

No, no, no... In the case of KDwason vs. AC an anonymous court has ruled in favor of [REDACTED].

Re:This is really dumb... (5, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041885)

What I got from the article was a tacit admission that people would inevitably try to abuse the system to supress legitimate voicing of concern, analagous to the legal cheap shot of invoking the DMCA to supress complaints or discussions of product defects, for example.

Re:This is really dumb... (5, Informative)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042027)

The appeals court disagreed with you in this decision in general.

The anonymity of speech, however, is not absolute and may be limited by defamation considerations.

In this particular case, the plaintiff sued the wrong people and the appeals court ruled that the original judge should not have compelled the NewsZap.com to identify the defendants.

This case involved 5 anonymous users and the plaintiff Brodie. The first 3 users discussed how a historical home sold by Brodie was burned down and demolished by the new owners. One user chastises the new owners and Mr. Brodie. The other two comment and ask for more information without specially posting any negative comments about Mr. Brodie.

In response to these comments, two other users make negative remarks about the cleanliness of the Dunkin' Donuts Mr. Brodie owns. One of the first 3 users comments on this but make no negative remarks.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Brodie however sued only the first 3 and tried to add the other 2 later after the statute of limitations ran out. The appeals court ruled that Mr. Brodie has no real case against the first 3 users as their comments were not libelous in nature. He would have had a case against the other 2 users but did not sue them. Thus Newszap.com should not have been compelled to identify any users.

Not anonymous (4, Interesting)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041761)

If its possible to hand over details of who posted an anonymous message, then it wasnt 100% anonymous, there must be some sites that dont log any details of anonymous posters, so cant hand anything over

Re:Not anonymous (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041775)

Do most sites even try to be anonymous??

Can they afford to be?

Maryland Courts and the Law (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041771)

I have lived in Maryland for around 10 years and have gone through around the same number of court cases. In that time I have learned that ONE DOES NOT FUCK WITH THE MARYLAND.

Uh oh (1)

scubamage (727538) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041781)

4chan is royally eff'd, eh?

Re:Uh oh (4, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041855)

4chan has always been royally fucked, trolling their is like pissing in an ocean of piss. Kind of like using the restroom at Centreville Dunkin' Donuts.

Re:Uh oh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041865)

I fully expect this to turn into copypasta, something along the lines of that one mother who is looking at her kid's browsing history and is shocked by what she found, once a week.

Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (5, Funny)

paranoid.android (71379) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041785)

It seems that these First Amendment cases are always about the most trivial and petty things possible. I fully expect the next one to revolve around whether or not yo momma is so fat, and how fat she is.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

phrackwulf (589741) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041851)

Seriously though, Yo mamma is HUGE! And this is Maryland we're talking about a state that looks up to New Jersey in terms of class and sophistication.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042385)

a state that looks up to New Jersey in terms of class and sophistication.

Now THAT was a libelous statement! I actually can't think of a better example (yes I am aware of West Virginia).

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041883)

And I'm also left wondering, what is the lawsuit going to accomplish? I say your donut shop is dirty, and either people believe it or not. Now are the people who believed it going to reconsider because they've heard on the news that a court determined they weren't dirty? Or now what if they lose the case-- should we assume that they really are dirty?

Or is this just to try to wring some money out of some random person who posted on a forum that they thought the place was dirty? They're probably spend tens of thousands of dollars to discover it was a 12 year old who has no money.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042025)

Last time I checked, clean vs dirty was a largely subjective observation.

Oh, sure you can get down and quantify what constitutes dirty and clean but ultimately since there is no generally accepted definition of clean and dirty, I would say that this is just a small whittling away of our rights.

remember, the government doesn't grant rights. it can only take them away and enforce the ones it allows us to have.

Every new law or judgment merely restricts our freedom further....but we have to think of the children....

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042261)

Cleanliness Report: _________

Findings:

This restaurant contained Non-Floor matter on the floor to a soiling density of 33% with a standard deviation of +/- 9 % depending on scuffle patterns.

The rest room sink contained 12% non-pure liquid residue at least 37% of the time for an average of 87 minutes per residue level state.

The tables contained 18% of Non-Table matter. 87% of this matter was debris from prior patrons. 12% appeared to be auxilliary foreign matter. 1% appeared to be hazardous, possibly from an infant.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (2)

triffid_98 (899609) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042049)

Well, it's difficult to say for certain, but I'd say it's a three pronged approach.

1. It gets them national news exposure AKA free advertising
2. It limits free speech
3. They can still sue the parents of the 12 year old, who may actually have some cash

Or is this just to try to wring some money out of some random person who posted on a forum that they thought the place was dirty? They're probably spend tens of thousands of dollars to discover it was a 12 year old who has no money.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (3, Interesting)

kabloom (755503) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042189)

Because if the anonymous posters are a competitor (or paid shills for a competitor) then it may make sense to sue them, while if they're actual customers it probably doesn't. I would hope that the court realizes the importance of following up after the identities of the posters are revealed to determine whether there's a sensible issue once the identities are known.

And you'll note that the appeals court didn't use this standard to say anonymous comments about a dirty Donut shop are worthy of a lawsuit, they used it to say that it's really not worthy of a lawsuit, so yes the court made a sensible decision here. They had to articulate a standard so they could use the standard.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042693)

I wasn't criticizing the court so much as questioning the judgement of the donut shop. I guess if they really have valid reasons to believe that it's a competitor who is engaging in an organized campaign to harm the public image, it seems reasonable to try to fight back. Otherwise, it seems like an overreaction.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041977)

Yo momma so stupid she got modded to -6.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042089)

Your momma so fat, Soviet Russia in her!

Yo momma so fat... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042157)

After sex, she smokes a turkey.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042195)

This is because of the erosion of our rights. There was a time when first amendment lawsuits involved people like Larry Flynt, saying things like "If the first amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you, because I'm the worst." These days, the cases that set precedent tend not to involve the worst scumbags, but normal people. Today you can easily see that if there's any question that the constitution will protect us in trivial and petty cases, there's NO chance it will protect us when it's important.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042225)

It seems that these First Amendment cases are always about the most trivial and petty things possible.

You don't run a doughnut store, do you?

Anyway, yo momma's so fat, she has diabetes.

Re:Cleanliness of a donut shop? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042557)

And cleanliness is rather subjective. SO OF FUCKING COURSE not should any anonymous poster's identity be revealed for posting an opinion on this. And putting some I-AM-GOING-TO-COME-AND-GET-YOU statement up on the website where the anonymous speech occurred is not the solution. This case should have been thrown out a long time before some supposedly-overworked judge's paralegal staff came up with these lame convoluted rules.

It isn't "a" Maryland court of appeals ... (5, Informative)

grandpa-geek (981017) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041803)

... it is "the" Maryland Court of Appeals. In other states it would be known as the state supreme court.

A similar situation is that what other states call the "state house of representatives" in Maryland is called the House of Delegates. (Virginia calls its lower house that also.)

Re:It isn't "a" Maryland court of appeals ... (1)

tsstahl (812393) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042017)

Just to pick a nit, Virginia is a commonwealth.

also, it's a state (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042227)

If it weren't a state, it wouldn't be able to seat Senators, for example, since the U.S. Constitution says there are "two Senators from each state", and does not apportion any to Commonwealths.

Re:also, it's a state (1)

onecheapgeek (964280) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042455)

There's just a line in the aliases file.

commonwealth: state

Re:It isn't "a" Maryland court of appeals ... (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042481)

I've heard this, but the US Constitution doesn't allow commonwealths, and under the Ratification clause, it says:

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.

Go. Washington is listed as the "President and deputy from Virginia". Since old George considered Virginia a state, I pretty sure we're safe in calling VA a state.

Re:It isn't "a" Maryland court of appeals ... (1)

tsstahl (812393) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042595)

And yet they still call themselves a commonwealth [virginia.gov] . As do several other states. Go figure.

Re:It isn't "a" Maryland court of appeals ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042395)

New York is similarly confusing. Their highest court is also called the New York Court of Appeals. But to make matters worse, they have a Supreme Court, which is actually a trial court, similar to other states circuit or district courts.

As fair as it's gonna get... (4, Insightful)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041821)

Lets face it... corporations ARE going to hammer this until they get their way. At least a court is coming up with some sort of fair way to arbitrate and say 'let the courts decide what is libelous before handing over identities'. That seems more than fair and it gives the anonymous user the opportunity to seek counsel should they feel the need.

It's a libelous world but at least the courts are trying to err on the side of caution.

Damn... (1)

squoozer (730327) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041867)

... I've slipped into a parallel universe again. Courts making sensible decisions! Next you'll tell me a funny joke about chickens crossing the road or maybe even find a /. meme that hasn't been done to death.

I wouldn't worry too much there is ample scope for this common sense to be screwed up by other courts and rulings.

Re:Damn... (1, Troll)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041983)

why did the chicken cross the road? to get away from the chairs!

Re:Damn... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042001)

I, for one, welcome our road-crossing chicken overlords.

^ Please accept the above as proof you are still in the real world.

Yanks: take note! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27041935)

Dear Yankee pains-in-the-arse,

The court overturned an earlier ruling that would have required NewsZap.com to turn over the names of anonymous posters who posted negative remarks about the cleanliness of a Centreville Dunkin' Donuts.

Emphasis one's own. Notice the correct spelling of centre, it's not 'center' it's 'centre'. The most important part of this story is not anything to do with free speech, but that for once one of you confounded Yanks spelt centre correctly!

Canadians manage to spell things correctly, why can't you? Get it right or I'll send in my ninja Corgis (with frikkin laser beams).

Lots of love,
Her Majesty the Queen.

What is defamation? (3, Interesting)

homer_s (799572) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041945)

If I truly believe that that restaurant is dirty, is it defamation?
I think not. How would anyone know what my standards for cleanliness are and whether I truly believed what I said (or typed in this case)?

Maybe my standards are really high and I saw a piece of paper on the floor and concluded that the restaurant is dirty. Or maybe I wanted to destroy the business and am using the piece of paper as an excuse.

Re:What is defamation? (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042257)

That would depend on what you said specifically. There's a difference between saying "This place is dirty to me" and "There's cockroaches crawling out everywhere." One is a statement of opinion and the other is a provable fact.

You can be sued for the latter but just because you can be sued only doesn't mean a court would find you guilty. Defamation involves a false claim. If there were actually roaches everywhere, you'd win as your statement was true.

Re:What is defamation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042307)

Which is why you take it to court: So someone who isn't involved with either side can decide if it is defamation or not.

Re:What is defamation? (1)

noshellswill (598066) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042333)

I believe baldly stated OPINIONS are 100% protected. "At a recent meal, broiled steaks at "Le Francior LeFlame" assaulted my tastebuds top, bottom and sides with tiny flint-edged pitchforks of culinary agony." Or suchlike ...

Re:What is defamation? (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042359)

Defamation generally requires a false, factual claim that causes damage -- not simply an opinion that some might find true and some might not. (Certainly an opinion that some might hold true is unlikely to get anywhere in a defamation case.)

Something sublte in the article.. (1, Interesting)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041967)

The appeals court decided Brodie was not entitled to learn the identities of the posters because in his complaint he misidentified the forum participants responsible for the critical comments.

How did he misidentify them? Did he guess as to who they were, and guess wrong?

The PDF file itself states:

The Court reviewed the record and determined that Brodie had not identified the appropriate forum participants in his complaint. Because Brodie failed to assert his defamation action against the correct individuals, the Court reversed the trial judgeâ(TM)s order compelling the discovery of the forum participantsâ(TM) identities.

How is it relevant that he misidentified them initially? Or is it simply that identifying someone by a user name is considered misidentification?

I would not want there to be a loophole in this ruling that would make it not apply in other cases.

Re:Something sublte in the article.. (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042323)

The case involved 5 users. Three of them were involved with a discussion of a historical home sold by the plaintiff. Then 2 other users made negative comments about the plaintiffs' Dunkin' Donuts. One of the first 3 made a comment about the Dunkin' Donuts but not a negative one. The plaintiff sued to identify the first 3. He didn't add the other 2 until after the statute of limitations ran out. He would have had a case against the last 2 had he identified them initially.

Amazing (4, Insightful)

GTarrant (726871) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041971)

The issue I have here is that it seems like the fact that this is just opinion is no longer relevant - the poster went there, didn't like it, and posted so, and suddenly it's defamatory. What if that was their actual opinion of what happened? Why would someone make that up?

It feels like everything even a tiny bit negative is suddenly grounds for a lawsuit.

Food critic gives a bad review? Don't make better food, sue the critic, the newspaper, and the corporation that owns it for defamation, even if the fries WERE soggy that day.

It seems like the issue is it's way cheaper to try and suppress negative information (even if it's simply random people's opinions) - and furthermore make it clear that it will be extremely costly to even utter such information, by way of having to defend oneself in court, even for pure opinion-laced statements. Some states, if I recall, have laws and remedies available when companies sue under such circumstances, but many, it seems, do not.

And hell - I've noticed that in some countries, forget opinion - it's getting to the point where even truth is no longer an absolute defense to libel, because truthful statements can still be "defamatory".

"Fame" and "Respect" shouldn't be a right just via the existence of a person or company, it's one of those things that is (or used to be) hard to earn, and easy to lose. What's the point of having a review or sharing thoughts if any negative one leads to a lawsuit?

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042169)

Truth as a defense against defamation is actually an American invention, and fairly recent by historical terms. In most cases, it would be better to say 'it is getting to the point where truth is an absolute defense to libel'.

And as for why would someone make it up? There are lots of petty-minded reasons: Because you dislike the owner, because they fired you, etc. Or even just that you didn't think it would be believed.

Re:Amazing (3, Insightful)

Reziac (43301) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042213)

Totally agree with everything you said. Anymore you can't just speak your mind; you've got to edit everything you think lest you offend SOMEONE. In that way, it's a form of thought control -- Thou Shalt Not Express Bad Thoughts, Especially About Those In Power. What you can't express, you tend not to think anymore either.

We have a whole generation that has been taught they have a right to be respected without earning it, and to have "self esteem" without having to grow it themselves. Is it any wonder that businesses are following in these same footsteps??

Re:Amazing (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042283)

I've noticed that in some countries, forget opinion - it's getting to the point where even truth is no longer an absolute defense to libel, because truthful statements can still be "defamatory".

In many countries truth has never been a defense.

Re:Amazing (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042445)

This is the general slant here -- the defense, at least, asserts that the purpose of the suit is solely to identify who the posters are; they have no intention of actually winning. (Given the nature of the comments, I'd have to agree -- there's no way they constitute defamation.)

Bad plan, darlings. (5, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041979)

Here's the problems. First, there's this idea that people who excercise their fifth amendment rights are guilty. Then there's this idea that anonymous speakers are "evil". Nevermind arguments about the 4th amendment, or about privacy and other things -- this all points to a systemic and popular change of opinion in the general public that excercising one's rights is synonymous with abusing them. This is very dangerous -- those rights were enacted to precisely and explicitly to protect innocent people who might otherwise be snared by ambiguous testimony, false witnesses, or procedural mistakes (amongst other flaws in the justice system that hang innocent people).

But that aside, the crux of the matter is, should anonymous speech be entitled the same protections as non-anonymous speech? If you're tempted to answer yes, consider that an "anonymous poster" stating that a pharmaceutical company is engaging in price fixing doesn't carry the same weight as a former accountant of the company in question stating it. Who you are does indeed matter when it comes to credibility. Just a talking point here. Here's the other problem -- people often post anonymously precisely because they have more to lose because of who they are, yet wish to perform a public service by drawing attention to a problem. Anyone remember F*ckedCompany during the dotcom bubble burst? The court fails to address these questions.

And the argument could be made they should not address them. Our court system is based on the concept that everything should be public, unless of course it has anything to do with terrorism, the government, or some government official's nuts in the vice, in which case it's Uber-Super-Double-Top-Secret. This is a problem for people found not guilty because public mentality is that even an accusation means you did something wrong. People's lives are ruined daily by false accusation, false witnesses, etc., because the system declares that everything should be public -- not just those found guilty, but also those found not guilty, or even innocent!

And in a digital age, I don't know that we can afford this anymore. The needs of the many (the public's need to know) is NOT outweighed by the individuals needs (for privacy) any longer, and a foundational aspect of our justice system now needs reform. Specifically, court actions should not be made public until the case is finalized and no longer appealable. Yes, that does mean the public gets less information. In my opinion... Deal with it. If this dynamic were the case, then the collateral damage in involving legal action against anonymous posters would be reduced a hundred-fold. Doing this eliminates the "chilling effect" that these actions provide.

Re:Bad plan, darlings. (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042067)

And in a digital age, I don't know that we can afford this anymore.

What does a digital age have to do with anything? As time has gone by our ability to communicate has always improved and yet civilization has so far continued marching along. The cops and crooks are in a constant state of cold war (with occasional outbreaks of heat... although in someplaces that is the status quo) and they proceed more or less in lock step. Not to mention that plenty of the cops are crooks.

In any age, we cannot afford to place restrictions on anonymous speech. When anonymity is criminal, only criminals will be anonymous. On the contrary, the proper approach to anonymous speech is to give it the consideration which it deserves.

Re:Bad plan, darlings. (1)

jwilty (1048206) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042505)

What does a digital age have to do with anything?

I think the parent actually answered this:

...public mentality is that even an accusation means you did something wrong.

We've had plenty of discussions here on /. about the consequences of being able to "google" people. How would you like have an anonymous comment link you to possession of child porn, only to have that comment as the top result when someone googles your name? Even if it is completely unsubstantiated, it is a hit containing your name and the words "child pornography." Furthermore, what if the person posting it didn't like you so they started writing it in many comments on many sites (enough that it became difficult for you to get them all removed)? This is a situation where I think anonymity should be trumped the rights of the individual.

Re:Bad plan, darlings. (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042569)

What does a digital age have to do with anything? As time has gone by our ability to communicate has always improved and yet civilization has so far continued marching along.

In short, everything.

For everything that anyone has ever said about you that has been created, translated, transported, or in some way has gone through a digital process,it is very likely now accessible in milliseconds from anywhere, world-wide, largely anonymously. Whereas before, people had to make a phone call, or sign a form, or do something else that took a measurable amount of time and energy, now they can find answers in seconds, no questions asked and no person to shy away from. You wouldn't think of asking a potential girlfriend to sign a release form authorizing a background check, because that would be rude. But if you can do it online, without having to ask anyone for anything, let alone knowing that nobody will know you looked... Now what are your chances?

Pretty good, I'd wager.

Re:Bad plan, darlings. (4, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042187)

Actually, according to the courts (I do not have a citation handy, but you should be able to look it up), anonymous speech is particularly protected, because anonymous speech is essential to honest political debate.

Imagine that if you spoke your political mind publicly that your neighbors or your boss, who had different political opinions, decided to punish you for what you said? It has certainly been known to happen. The Federalist Papers, and other important documents that led to the formation of our Constitution, were published publicly but anonymously. Why? Precisely because the authors feared serious repercussions should their names be attached to the documents.

If anonymous speech were not protected, then the concept of "freedom of speech" would be a joke. It is essential that people be able to speak their minds, without being harassed or injured or jailed for their opinions. Remember, however, that opinion and libel are two different things.

Re:Bad plan, darlings. (2, Insightful)

Reziac (43301) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042299)

Absolutely. Anonymous speech is critical to a free nation, for all the reasons you state.

And as I say above -- when you don't dare express your opinion, that becomes a form of thought control, since there's a natural tendency to avoid thoughts that lead to Unpleasantness (such as being sued or arrested for every negative opinion).

Anonymous accusation is another matter. In some areas of local law (anything to do with child or animal welfare), anonymous complaints are taken as solid evidence, and you have no right to face your accuser. That is equally wrong.

Maryland Court of Appeals is the state high court (0, Redundant)

Eharley (214725) | more than 5 years ago | (#27041997)

The summary seems to suggest that this is just an appellate decision. The MD Court of Appeals is the state's high court. This is the final word on this case in the state of Maryland.

Re:Maryland Court of Appeals is the state high cou (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042133)

The summary seems to suggest that this is just an appellate decision. The MD Court of Appeals is the state's high court. This is the final word on this case in the state of Maryland.

I guess that's Maryland's fault for calling it "Court of Appeals" rather than "Court of Final Say". Yes, I realise even the highest court is an appellate court, but that goes without saying. It certainly doesn't need to press on the fact.

A DUNKIN Donuts? (1)

GPLDAN (732269) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042103)

All this over a rat nibbling a couple chocolate eclairs. Rat droppings just look like sprinkles. It's nothing to get upset about.

Maryland v. X (5, Interesting)

dhermann (648219) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042155)

In the case of the Emily Vance versus the Bathroom Wall Writer of the Baltimore Golden Corral, Men's Room, 2nd Stall, sometime between 6:30 PM on January 25th 2009 and 10:45 PM on January 27th 2009, the Court finds that Emily Vance, with whom the Bathroom Writer suggested a short-term relationship might result in a pleasant outcome, did effectively write on said wall in reply, letting the Bathroom Writer know he or she was the subject of a subpoena. The Bathroom Writer, who knowingly and wantonly failed to respond, is hereby subject to the default judgement of $840,000. The next time the Bathroom Writer writes on that wall, Ms. Vance should let him or her know that he or she is liable.

Mod parent +j, Wat? (3, Insightful)

u38cg (607297) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042237)

Sometimes one dimensional number systems don't fit your moderation needs.

Someday, just being an AC will be a crime (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042231)

The way things are going, it will (already is?) be illegal to even try and be anonymous.

Eventually, if THEY really want to get you, it will not be for what you said, but for the fact that you probably lied to get set up an "anonymous" account, thus violating some TOS. Any attempt to be AC probably took planning, which (in their mind), is the willful committing of conspiracy, with intent, etc. Toss in unauthorized access of computers, etc. etc. you just get in deeper and deeper.

You will have a list of felonies much worse than the libel, at which point it doesn't really matter if you actually did.

Using TOR, your neighbor's open WiFi, etc, all compound your crimes.

Oh, and it's all to protect the children, so you must be a kiddie porn peddling molester if you think any of those laws are unjust, so we might as well toss those charges on top.

court power ... not freedom (1)

noshellswill (598066) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042241)

What is surprising? The court decided to ... aggrandize its own power. In the absence of an aggressive legislative body, asserting its power to make law, the COURT will make law. That is, unless citizens have a better idea .

use proxies, tor, etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27042273)

The internet routes around censorship and other free-speech issues like this.

It sounds like we're getting to the point where anytime anyone wants to say something critical of a government, corporation, or even another person, we're going to have to use Tor.

http://www.torproject.org/ [torproject.org]

Subpoena all you want, you'll get nothing.

First Ammendment? Please explain! (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#27042499)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I don't see the word anonymous anywhere in there. I don't see anything close to the concept of anonymity there.

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