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Appeals court hears arguments in anonymous speech case

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Maryland appeals court heard oral arguments Monday over the outing of anonymous Web writers responsible for posting online allegedly defamatory…

A Maryland appeals court heard oral arguments Monday over the outing of anonymous Web writers responsible for posting online allegedly defamatory remarks about a Dunkin’ Donuts store, according to The Washington Post.  

Lawyers for Independent Newspapers Inc. argued that the anonymous speech at issue in Independent Newspapers v. Brodie ought to weigh heavily in the balance against a plaintiff’s right to gather the information he needs to pursue a lawsuit. The issue pits a Dunkin’ Donuts store owner against Independent Newspapers, on whose Web site, NewsZap.com, the statements were made.

According to The Post, one commenter wrote that Zebulon Brodie’s store was among "the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen."

At least one judge Monday reportedly pressed an attorney for Public Citizen, which represented the newspaper group, on what a plaintiff should have to establish to before he could force the outing of an anonymous Web writer. Attorney Paul Alan Levy told the judge anonymous speech should not have absolute protection, but that, The Post said, "caution is in order because once anonymity is gone, it cannot be restored."

The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the case stressing that plaintiff’s should exhaust all other possible ways of identifying the alleged libel commentors before taking on third-parties, such as news outlets.