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Libel suit against JuicyCampus users dropped

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A University of Delaware student is withdrawing a lawsuit filed this month over allegedly libelous statements made on the Web…

A University of Delaware student is withdrawing a lawsuit filed this month over allegedly libelous statements made on the Web site, nipping in the bud what could have been a test of the site’s sweeping support of anonymous speech on the Internet.

In the case, Jane Doe v. John Does 1-5, the plaintiff accused unnamed defendants of making false and defamatory statements on JuicyCampus about her sexual history and reputation. According to court documents, the plaintiff claimed she was identified on the Web site, and her reputation was damaged.

JuicyCampus itself was not named in the lawsuit; service providers are not liable for defamatory statements others post on their Web sites under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Still, JuicyCampus could have been subpoenaed to help identify the users who posted the allegedly libelous comments.

JuicyCampus permits and even encourages college students to post gossip about their schools and peers.  The site boasts that its “Posts are totally, 100% anonymous,” one slogan reads. No registration or login is required.

Still, JuicyCampus CEO Matt Ivester said in an interview, even with that "100%" anonymity, the site’s users can be identified.  

“Anonymous does not mean completely untraceable by any means," he said. "Anonymous means not attributed.”  

According to the Web site’s Frequently Asked Questions page, JuicyCampus indeed can reveal a user’s IP, or Internet Protocol, address.  University of Indiana Law School professor and Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research director Fred H. Cate explained to the (Bloomington) Herald Times in March that an attorney can subpoena a user’s IP connection time and match that with the time the allegedly libelous statements were posted.    

JuicyCampus says on the site it will comply with a subpoena, but Ivester said he doesn’t take responsibility for the comments made on his site.

“I never feel guilty for a form of speech. The First Amendment is so important in this country in providing a place where students can speak,” Ivester said. He added that there is no way for him to know what is and isn’t libelous because he can’t know whether posted statements are false.

District Judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr. signed an order in early November allowing the Delaware student who filed the lawsuit to proceed anonymously.

The plaintiff was seeking an order for the removal of the allegedly false statements from the Web site, a published correction and a public apology. Additionally, she was seeking monetary compensation for the harm caused by the statements.