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Ruling in Indiana Forces Paper to Identify Anonymous Commenters
Beware, anonymous hordes of the internet. Next time you say something nasty about someone online, your identity could be revealed. That’s what a judge in Indiana ruled recently in a defamation case against the The Indianapolis Star. The lawsuit was filed by Jeffrey Miller, an executive at something called Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, who didn’t like what some people were saying about him on Star comment boards.
The ruling forced The Star to turn over info like IP addresses and internet providers, after which an attorney can subpoena the provider for real names. While it’s a win for Mr. Miller, others are thinking about the wider implications of the case, mainly whether this will have a chilling effect on speech on the internet. The Star points out the possible ramifications:
“We are seeing more and more defamation lawsuits being filed, that’s clear,” said David Hudson, a First Amendment scholar at the First Amendment Center, affiliated with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Hudson said the public should be concerned if anonymous comments on public websites begin drying up because of the fear of lawsuits. “If this happens, then people will be less likely to comment” on public issues, he said.
That certainly could be true. If people feel like they are going to get sued for defamation, they certainly would think twice about writing something on a message board. At the same the time, having no legal recourse when getting defamed isn’t so great either. Miller’s attorney Kevin Betz defended the decision: “This is not an assault on the shield law … In fact, it is well within the bounds of the traditional terms of the shield law … I don’t think these people are advancing any cause of democracy or purposeful free speech.”