What would your hosting service do?

R.G. Ratcliffe in the Houston Chronicle: Suit against blogger tests limits of speech, privacy; Such lawsuits on the rise as blogs proliferate.

It begins,

  Friday, September 21, 2007

  Paris, Texas, population 26,490, may be an unlikely Internet frontier. But a defamation lawsuit filed by the local hospital against an anonymous blogger is testing the bounds of Internet privacy, First Amendment freedom of speech and whistle-blower rights.

  A state district judge has told lawyers for the hospital and the blogger that he plans to order a Dallas Internet service provider to release the blogger’s name. The blogger’s lawyer, James Rodgers of Paris, said he will appeal to preserve the man’s anonymity.

  Rodgers said the core question in the legal battle is whether a plaintiff in a lawsuit can strip a blogger of anonymity merely by filing suit. Without some higher standard to prove a lawsuit has merit, he said, defamation lawsuits could have a chilling effect on Internet free speech.

  “Anybody could file a lawsuit and say, ‘I feel like I’ve been defamed. Give me the name,’ ” Rodgers said.

Here’s the blogger. The ISP (actually, hosting service) is Blogspot. In other words, Google.

It’s complicated, and there are lots of threads to follow. Be more than interesting to see how and where this goes.

3 comments

  1. frank pasquale (the fac_p one)’s avatar

    The case becomes even more interesting when one examines the actual lawsuit. The suit attributes several comments to ‘John Doe #1′ that were specifically listed as coming from anonymous comments on the blog.

    Additionally, the supposed HIPAA violation published was again from an anonymous source–which in the telling, cannot be determined if they were a covered entity, or merely a passer-by. In either case, no PHI was released.

    The sum of these accusations was used by the plaintiff to justify the third-party order. Is there any doubt that the plaintiff should have to prove validity prior to release of identity?

    If not, then any accusation of impropriety could cause a similar disclosure, no matter how disingenuous the reasoning….

  2. Crosbie Fitch’s avatar

    I’m not sure anyone can be defamed by an anonymous and unknown person.

    For harm to be caused by falsehood requires the falsehood to have some weight, i.e. someone’s reputation behind it.

    An anonymous person has no reputation. Their arguments or assertions stand entirely upon their intrinsic merit.

    Look at it the other way around: an anonymous person cannot be defamed no matter the reputation of those defaming them (because the anonymous person has no reputation).

    Similarly, one could observe that a child’s defamation has far less weight than an adult’s.

    Defamation is inherently inegalitarian, and rightly so.

  3. 100GB Webhosting’s avatar

    This is a topic that also affects webhosts as well, by virtually serving the information that we store we in effect become liable to these laws. For instance I run a free hosting service at http://www.hostedwith.us where I on several occasions have received a C&D notice from people claiming everything from slander to copyright infringements. Personally I remove the offending sites but I know most dont….

    The issue that we are faced with is a lack of clarity as to international level legislation on these issues.

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