Things are beginning to heat up in the case brought by two female Yale Law students against anonymous writers for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and other wrongdoings they allegedly committed while posting comments about the women on the law-school discussion board AutoAdmit.
The last time we brought you news from the proceedings in Connecticut federal court, the plaintiffs had been granted expedited discovery to uncover the identities of the 39 anonymous defendants so they could be named.
Now, the defendant known as”AK47,”who had written on AutoAdmit that”Women named Jill and [Doe II’s equally common first name] should be raped,”has filed a motion to quash a subpoena that AT&T received from the plaintiffs that ordered the company to hand over information about AK47’s Internet account.
In the motion, AK47 wrote that the subpoena tramples on his”constitutionally protected right to speak anonymously.”He called his rape comment”silly”but protected by free speech rights, and says it is unfair that he was given just 10 days to prepare the motion on an area of law he isn’t familiar with, and that the plaintiffs have the luxury of pro bono lawyers from”an elite law firm,”Keker & Van Nest. Still, AK47 shows he’s done some research, citing a host of Internet law precedents he says bolster his arguments.
This case may help reframe the legal rules about what kind of misery one can inflict on other people from behind a pseudonym, which will certainly have a variety of reverberations throughout the blogosphere. On a tangential note, Crooked Timber recently reminded its readers of the following:
We’ve had a few more offensive trolls and sockpuppeteers than usual (that is, more numerous and more offensive) recently, and it seems to be time to make an explicit statement of our policy in this respect. You can read the comments policy in the left-hand sidebar. We’ve just added the following:
We respect the preference of many genuine commenters for pseudonymity and will protect their privacy. However, this respect does not extend to those who abuse pseudonymity to launch personal attacks on posters or other commenters, post racist or sexist comments or employ sockpuppets. We will, if appropriate, publish the identity of such abusers and share their identifying information with other sites.
There’s nothing new here, and we’ve acted on this policy in the past. But it seems like a good time to spell it out.
Same goes for this blog.