South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Internet Provider Must Provide Names of Subscribers in Deposition
Description Virginia high court held that under rules of comity, a Virginia Internet service provider must submit to a deposition to provide information for use in litigation in California that involves an unidentified subscriber accused of defamation.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Internet; Defamation; Discovery; Long-Arm Statute; Comity
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Nam Tai Electronics sued 51 unknown individuals in California state court for posting false and defamatory messages on the Internet message board devoted to discussion of Nam Tai's publicly traded stock that was maintained by Yahoo. Based on a subpoena that directed Yahoo to disclose its subscriber data, Nam Tai knew the AOL account names of certain parties. Nam Tai sought to take depositions of AOL in Virginia to discover the names of its subscribers who posted messages. AOL refused to comply, contending that its subscribers were protected by the First Amendment. The court in Virginia ordered AOL to provide the information requested. AOL appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. The cause of action in California is similar to law in Virginia so it is not in violation of public policy, despite the alleged First Amendment concerns. The order of the California court's order for out-of-state discovery is entitled to comity. For comity to allow deposition, the court need not determine whether California's long-arm statute would permit it to exercise jurisdiction over the party from whom discovery is sought as that party, AOL, is not being subjected to the personal jurisdiction of the California court, but to that of the Virginia trial court under the Uniform Foreign Depositions Act.

Citation America Online, Inc. v. Nam Tai Electronics, Inc., 571 S.E.2d 128 (Sup. Ct., Va., 2002)

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