The Delaware Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that if an elected official claims he has been defamed by an anonymous blogger, he cannot use a lawsuit to unmask the writer unless he has substantial evidence to prove his claim.
That standard, the court said, “will more appropriately protect against the chilling effect on anonymous First Amendment Internet speech that can arise when plaintiffs bring trivial defamation lawsuits primarily to harass or unmask their critics.”
The New York Times news report is here.
What was said? Here is what got John Doe Blogger sued for defamation:
At issue was a defamation lawsuit filed last year by Patrick Cahill, a councilman in Smyrna, Del. Mr. Cahill said he needed the identity of a blogger who in a September 2004 posting praised the mayor but said Mr. Cahill was divisive and had "an obvious mental deterioration."
In a second posting, the blogger, named John Doe in the suit, wrote that Mr. Cahill "is as paranoid as everyone in the town thinks he is," according to court records.
As the Internet continues to evolve, the First Amendment will continue to grow as a major legal battleground. Let's face it, yelling obscenities at our neighbor across the hedge is nothing compared to what we can do with blog technology. For one, I believe in the right to yell across the hedge. This Delaware Court got it right. The fact that Mr. Cahill sued over the opinions voiced above tells us he must be paranoid. I think the court saw his allegations as frivolous (clearly these were opinions not facts) and saw Mr. Cahill's real motive. He wanted to unmask the blogger and the suit was simply a tool to accomplish that goal. Here is the opinion.
Here is a great quote from the Court:
"The Internet provides a means of communication where a person wronged by statements of an anonymous poster can respond instantly, can respond to the alleged defamatory statements on the same site or blog, and thus, can, almost contemporaneously, respond to the same audience that initially read the allegedly defamatory statements.
Who said judge's are not tech savvy?