SW Legal studies in Business

Anonymous Discovery Request to ISP for Information on Chat Room Participants Quashed
Description The Virginia high court held that Virginia courts would not require AOL to provide information about unidentified chat room participants to an anonymous company that requested the identities to be provided so it could sue the participants for defaming the company. The need for privacy was outweighed by the presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Discovery; ISP Disclosure; Chat Room
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts An anonymous corporation (AC) filed a complaint against five John Does, in Indiana court, contending that the Does, identities unknown, had made defamatory material representations about AC in Internet chat rooms. AC asserted that, based on the material discussed, it believed the Does were current or former employees who breached their duties to AC by publishing confidential material insider information. The Indiana court issued an order allowing AC to proceed with a non-party request to America Online, a Virginia company, that ran the chat rooms, to discover the identity of the Does. The Indiana court requested the Virginia courts to issue a subpoena to AOL for the information. AOL requested the Virginia court to squash the subpoena but it refused. AOL appealed.
Decision Reversed. Virginia courts should comply with orders of out-of-state courts so long as the procedural and substantive law is reasonably comparable to that of Virginia. When a plaintiff proceeds anonymously, there must be a careful weighing by the court of the right to privacy against the presumption of openness in judicial proceedings. Here, the sole reason for AC's request is its fear of economic harm, but AC failed to reveal the degree and nature of the potential economic harm, so its interest in privacy is insufficient to outweigh the presumption of open judicial proceedings. The Virginia courts will provide AOL the relief it seeks against the subpoena.
Citation America Online, Inc. v. Anonymous Publicly Traded Company, 542 S.E.2d 377 (Sup. Ct., Va., 2001)

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