Who's Exposing John Doe? Distinguishing Between Public and Private Figure Plaintiffs in Subpoenas to ISPs in Anonymous Online Defamation Suits
32 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2009
Date Written: December 9, 2008
The Communications Decency Act prevents victims of online defamation from suing intermediaries like Internet Service Providers and online message board operators. As a result, plaintiffs have resorted to filing John Doe lawsuits and subpoenaing Internet companies to reveal the identity of anonymous online posters as a way to silence defamatory speech. The purpose of these John Doe lawsuits is not to win a monetary judgment but instead to silence the critic through exposure. Currently, First Amendment considerations lead to distinguishing between public and private figure plaintiffs in what must be proven to win a defamation suit on the merits. This article argues that those same considerations should also lead to distinguishing between what public and private figure plaintiffs must prove to issue a subpoena to expose an anonymous online critic.
Keywords: Defamation, Anonymous, John Doe lawsuits, Communications Decency Act
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