New York Caselaw: The New York County Supreme Court in Greenbaum v. Google, Inc., held that an elected member of a school board was not entitled to discover the identity of an anonymous blog poster who posted derogatory comments about the board member, calling her a “bigot” and an “anti-semite.” However, the Court did not focus upon the legal issue of whether it was appropriate to order disclosure of the anonymous speaker’s information; instead, it noted that since it did not believe that the comments rose to the level of defamation, there was no need to reach the issue of whether disclosure of the poster’s identity should be revealed.
It first commented that an appellate court in New York had not yet developed a standard that would govern the disclosure of the names of anonymous bloggers. The Court indicated that an anonymous Internet speaker must be given an opportunity to be heard in court and that those parties bringing a lawsuit must identify the actual statements that they believed to be defamatory. Notably, when a court gives an anonymous poster the opportunity to be heard, it will generally take steps to ensure that the speaker’s identity remains anonymous until it renders a decision as to whether the disclosure of the identity of that poster is lawful. Otherwise, an anonymous poster might be afraid to post speech that is protected by the First Amendment for fear that a court would give any litigant his name. Courts generally strive to not chill speech in this manner.
After examining the speech at issue, the Greenbaum Court found that it did not need to further articulate a standard for disclosing the identity of an anonymous internet poster because the posted comments were not defamatory. As such, the case could be dismissed without the speaker’s identity being revealed.
This case emphasizes the need to have a legitimate defamation claim prior to filing an action alleging defamation. Obtaining a speaker’s identity can be difficult and time-consuming. The courts will not generally readily demand the disclosure of speakers’ information. Accordingly, it emphasizes the importance of reviewing the speech at issue to be sure that it is such that it is likely to result in a viable claim.
© 2008 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC