South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Identity of Anonymous Blog Poster Cannot Be Forced Unless Plaintiff Likely to Prevail
Description Delaware high court held that a person criticized in a blog could not force the website host to reveal the identity of the anonymous blog poster unless the person who suffered the criticism could show that he was likely to prevail in his claim that he suffered defamation.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Weblog; Defamation; Anonymous Posting
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Cahill, a member of the city council of Smyrna, Delaware, was criticized on a website sponsored by Delaware State News called the "Smyrna/Clayton Issues Blog." Anonymous posters said Cahill had "character flaws" suffered "obvious mental deterioration," and was "paranoid." Cahill sued the "John Doe" posters and got a court order requiring Comcast to disclose the identity of the posters. Comcast notified Doe, who filed a motion for a protective order to prevent Cahill from getting his identity from Comcast. The trial court denied the request and held that Comcast must provide Doe's identity to Cahill. Doe appealed.

Reversed and remanded. First Amendment protections extend to anonymous Internet speech, but the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech. In a defamation suit, the plaintiff must support the claim with facts sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion before obtaining the identity of an anonymous defendant. The statements that were posted were not defamatory, so Cahill has no claim. Hence, he cannot obtain Doe's identity. Since the blog stated that it was dedicated to the discussion of political matters, no reasonable person could have interpreted the statements as being anything other than opinions.

Citation Doe v. Cahill, , 884 A.2d 451 (Sup. Ct., Del., 2005)

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