Posts Tagged ‘freedom of speech’

By Paul Alan Levy. Reposted from Public Citizen’s Consumer Law and Policy blog

About a year ago, the blogosphere was alight  with discussion of an "Paul Levy"important statute of limitations decision from the federal court in Philadelphia, rejecting a libel suit brought by Arthur Alan Wolk, a well-known trial lawyer specializing in aviation accidents, against Walter Olson, a conservative blogger whose Overlawyered blog focuses on cases and lawyers that illustrate his support for the cause of tort deform and, indeed, his broad opposition to various forms of social legislation.  Not content to pursue his arguments against that ruling on appeal, Wolk has filed a new lawsuit naming not only the original defendants but their lawyers and several other individuals and organizations.

In an April 2007 blog post, Olson’s blog questioned whether Wolk might have entered a settlement that underpaid his client to get scathing opinion about Wolk vacated, and whether the potential conflict of interest had been fully vetted.  Wolk, insisting that the blog post was false in several ways, brought suit in May 2009 in Pennsylvania state court against Olson and others and invoked the discovery rule to avoid the one-year statute of limitations for libel suits by alleging that he had not discovered the critical blogs until he Googled himself in April 2009.  The complaint itself set forth the blog post, and attached it as an exhibit, showing April 8, 2007 as the date of publication.  The defendants removed the case to federal court and sought dismissal of the suit as untimely, noting that Pennsylvania, like most states, applies a one-year statute of limitations to libel claims.  The court, accepting as true Wolk’s allegation about when he actually learned about the alleged defamation, nevertheless applied the mass media exception to the discovery rule and held that Wolk could not sue based on claims of ignorance about criticisms that were widely available to the public.

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A federal judge’s ruling today in Utah dismissing Koch Industries’ lawsuit against a group of anonymous climate-change activists known as Youth for Climate Truth is an important victory for free speech online.

The judge ruled that Youth for Climate Truth had a First Amendment right to issue its satirical press release and website – in which the group impersonated Koch and announced that the company had reversed its position on climate change – in an effort to call attention to Koch’s bankrolling efforts to deny climate change. The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah rejected all of Koch’s legal claims, which alleged trademark infringement, unfair competition, cybersquatting, computer hacking and breach of the company website’s terms of use. The judge also issued an order barring Koch from using any identifying information it already obtained by subpoena about the anonymous group.

We are gratified that the court affirmed our clients’ First Amendment right to engage in anonymous political speech and rejected Koch’s baseless legal theories.

This lawsuit was a well-financed attempt by Koch to bully its political opponents into submission. The court was right to dismiss this lawsuit, which was based on a harmless prank.

This important precedent will prevent future lawsuits aimed at stifling political speech.

Read more about this case.

Deepak Gupta is a Public Citizen litigator.

Last week we reported about a high-profile case Public Citizen is arguing. Jermaine Hall, editor of Vibe magazine,  and his wife are attempting to force the online message board Lipstick Alley to reveal the identity of an anonymous poster who, under the screen name BETonBlack, posted comments that the Halls found offensive.

The reality is, as blogger Charing Ball aptly pointed out the Halls:

. . . might be making mountains out of a molehill because prior to lawsuit, most users probably never heard of BETonBlack or his or her comments.  Now it’s a guarantee that folks will be actively seeking them out.

Ball writes of her own experiences being a blogger,

As a writer, particularly one who publishes their work online, you will learn to develop a thicker skin over time to deal with attacks from those whose sole purpose is to provoke an emotional-based response. As infuriating it is and can be at times, consider the trolls as a not-so-pleasant consequence that comes with the privilege of participating in the last bastion of free speech also known as the Internet.

Words can hurt. This we do not deny. Every day people say things that we don’t agree with but when it comes to revealing the identity of those that say them online, not liking what someone says is not enough to force a company to unmask the identity of a commenter. In the brief filed on the case last week by Public Citizen attorney Paul Levy, Public Citizen says that the Halls have yet to even allege that the comments were made with actual malice, a higher standard of proof which must be used when public figures like Jermaine Hall are involved.  Imagine a world where every time someone said something negative in an online forum about the editor of the New York Times the New York Times Company went to court. If you think the U.S. judicial system is slow now . . . hard to imagine, right?

What is even harder to imagine is a world where anonymous online speech is not protected. This is the world that Paul Levy and Public Citizen have been fighting to protect for years. Charing Ball writes,

These sorts of lawsuits could be troubling for some people because it could result in a much harder time using the Internet if real names and/or addresses are revealed. Corporate whistleblowers, human rights workers and organizers, and victims of domestic violence all benefit from the anonymity of the Internet.

Public Citizen is a leader in Internet freedom of speech. Our work has helped courts define standards that protect your first amendment rights online. Please visit our website for more information on this issue.

Today’s Flickr photo:

Flickr photo by alongfortheride

If you read one thing today…

In a bold step of government stifling free speech, Rep. Peter King, the new chair of the House Homeland Security committee, urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to place the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, on the Specially Designated National and Blocked Persons List — a government list that would ban people and companies nationwide from conducting business with both. Wow. Bold indeed.

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