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CA Court of Appeal Rules Yahoo Message Boards Will Remain Anonymous

Lisa Krinsky was formerly president and CEO of SFBC International in Florida. On a financial message board hosted by Yahoo, Krinsky was the target of some very negative, crude and vulgar comments. Krinsky filed suit against 10 pseudonymous posters for libel and interference with contractual/business relationships.

yahoo-logo.jpgThe problem was that she had to identify the people she was suing. Krinsky attempted to discover the defendants’ identities by serving a subpoena on Yahoo. Yahoo notified Doe 6 that it would comply with the subpoena in 15 days unless a motion to quash or other legal objection was filed.

Doe 6 then moved in superior court to quash the subpoena on the grounds that (1) plaintiff had failed to state a claim sufficient to overcome his First Amendment rights for either defamation or interference with a contractual or business relationship, and (2) plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief was an invalid prior restraint.

Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Socrates P. Manoukian concluded that the totality of circumstances justified the relief Krinsky was seeking, and denied Doe 6’s motion to quash.

Doe 6 appealed.

On appeal, Justice Franklin D. Elia wrote for the court that posters to Internet message boards had a First Amendment right to shield their identity, and that this right could only be overcome if Krinsky could make a prima facie showing that a case for defamation existed.

Directly from the opinion, which can be found HERE “We thus conclude that Doe 6’s online messages, while unquestionably offensive and demeaning to plaintiff, did not constitute assertions of actual fact and therefore were not actionable under Florida’s defamation law. Because plaintiff stated no viable cause of action that overcame Doe 6’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously, the subpoena to discover his identity should have been quashed.”

While we in no way condone the vulgarity and crudeness used by Doe 6 (as quoted in the opinion), we commend the California Court of Appeals for protecting our free speech rights related to the Internet.