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Outing of anonymous Web writer in defamation suit prompts confusion

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  1. Libel and Privacy
It was news enough earlier this month when two Yale law students publicly outed an anonymous message board writer they…

It was news enough earlier this month when two Yale law students publicly outed an anonymous message board writer they say defamed them online with a slew of sexual attacks. Now comes a report that the man they’re suing — Matthew C. Ryan — has the same name as one unlucky Texas lawyer.

And between the misplaced hate e-mail and media calls, according to Texas Lawyer, this Ryan has had a difficult couple of weeks.

"In one e-mail, a redacted copy of which (the lawyer’s spokesman) provided to Texas Lawyer, the anonymous author wrote to Ryan the lawyer, ‘You are so finished as an attorney it’s not even funny.’"  The newspaper says Ryan and a friend have spent days clarifying the matter with friends, with co-workers and in the blogosphere.

The underlying case involves the law students’ suit against 39 anonymous writers over attacks — including that one of them had a sexually transmitted disease and comments about rape apparently directed at them — on the Web site AutoAdmit. A U.S. district judge in January allowed the plaintiffs to subpoena Internet service providers in attempt to identify the users.

In recently filed paperwork, the plaintiffs named one of the defendants as "Mathew C. Ryan of Austin, Texas," according to the Associated Press, which said in an Aug. 7 article that it left an e-mail and a phone message for Ryan. The wire service quoted the plaintiffs’ attorney saying Ryan had gone to the University of Texas.

Which could have sparked some of the confusion about Matthew Ryan the Texas-based lawyer, who is an adjunct professor at UT, according to Texas Lawyer. Ryan the lawyer asked the plaintiffs’ attorney to amend the complaint clarifying which Ryan they are suing.