Monday, December 14, 2009

District Court Denies Motion To Compel Identity Of Person Posting Comments To Newspaper Article

As discussed HERE by Venkat Balasubramani, Judge Gary A. Fenner of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri held that an individual that posted a comment to a story in the Springfield News-Leader did not waive his/her right to anonymity:
despite a policy which allowed for disclosure, the court found that there was no waiver. Among other reasons, the court relied on the fact that the provision governing disclosure was buried in a privacy policy which the commenter probably did not read in the first place.
After a prosecutor decided to drop charges, the Springfield News-Leader ran a story about it.  A comment was posted that criticized the prosecutor's decision.  The plaintiff in a related civil case served a subpoena on the newspaper requesting the identity of the person that posted the comments.  Judge Fenner ruled:
In this case, Plaintiff relies upon two sentences in a two-page document in which the overarching theme is that information provided by a user of the site may be used for various commercial purposes. Nothing on the face of the privacy policy even hints a user may be waiving his or her constitutional right to anonymous free speech by posting comments or materials on the News-Leader’s website. Given the presumption against waiver and the boiler-plate language Plaintiff relies upon, it cannot be said that the anonymous poster was aware he or she may be waiving the right to free speech, let alone the significance of such waiver. For these reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion is DENIED.
The court's entire order is below:
Sedersten v. Taylor


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