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Tennessee court upholds anonymous speech online

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Tennessee state court refused to unmask an anonymous blogger last week, citing the recent Maryland high court decision that upheld…

A Tennessee state court refused to unmask an anonymous blogger last week, citing the recent Maryland high court decision that upheld a balancing test for identifying anonymous speakers on the Internet, the Citizen Media Law Project reports.

Swartz v. Doe involves a couple in Old Hickory, Tenn., who run a real estate business and a halfway house. An anonymous blogger started a Web site, StopSwartz. blogspot, to criticize the couple’s practices. The Swartzes sued for defamation and invasion of privacy and sent a subpoena to Google, which owns the blogspot site, seeking the identity of the anonymous blogger. The Doe defendant sought to quash the subpoena.

After oral arguments on Friday, the judge ruled from the bench that the plaintiffs needed to make a sufficient legal and factual showing that their defamation claims have merit in order to unmask the blogger — thus applying the test developed in New Jersey in Dendrite v. Doe and applied in Maryland in Independent Newspapers v. Brodie. He also instructed the Doe defendant to file a motion to dismiss. The court will hold a hearing after the briefing is complete.

Citizen Media Law Project has a video of the argument on its Web site.