Two different lawsuits in the news this week are raising questions about the rights of anonymous bloggers, forum participants and tipsters. More importantly, at least from a business perspective, they reinforce the importance of having a corporate policy regarding contributing online.
First is the case of Liskula Cohen, a model who sued Google to determine the identity of an anonymous blogger she claimed had defamed her. New York State Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden found in Cohen's favor and required Google to reveal the blogger's identity. In doing so, ABCNews.com reports, Madden rejected the blogger's argument that statements in the blog could not be considered assertions of fact because "blogs serve as a modern day forum for conveying personal opinions, including invective and ranting."
Though Cohen's lawyer admitted to ABC News the ruling might not change the Internet, he asserts it will change what some people do on the Internet.
ZDNet Government blogger and attorney Richard Koman says the ruling definitely "changes the blogging game" in that anonymous bloggers aren't really anonymous and can be held responsible for their defamatory statements. However, he doesn't agree with the argument that Google and other Internet service providers should be held liable for users' activity. Koman says:
A little defamation is a small price to pay for the benefits of a free Internet, but as Google grows ever more powerful, there may be growing displeasure with their free pass.
The second case comes out of the appeals court in the District of Columbia. After a software audit revealed a company that makes software for the Department of Defense was not pirating software, the company sought to force the Software and Information Industry Association to reveal the name of the person who had -- wrongly -- accused it of piracy.
Though the judge ruled the SIIA did not have to turn over the source's identity in this particular case because the company's subpoena was inadequate, the judge did set out the standard for determining when it is appropriate to deprive such a "tipster" of the protection anonymity provides. Ars Technica's John Timmer explains the standard this way:
In short, the plaintiff has to provide evidence that its claims are reasonable and the identity of the defendant is needed before the suit could continue. The defendant should also be given the opportunity to attempt to block his or her unmasking in court.
So, even a tip made anonymously can get back to you if the circumstances are right.