Nov 082009
 November 8, 2009  Posted by  Court, Online

Jim Dwyer reports:

Early one morning in March, the law banged on the door of an apartment on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village. Investigators had a warrant to arrest Raphael Haim Golb and seize his computer. He was caught red-handed.

Mr. Golb is, or was, a guerrilla fighter in a cyberbrawl over the Dead Sea Scrolls, a war about the origins of 2,000-year-old documents that has consumed the energy of academics around the globe.

Read more in the New York Times.

Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press begins her coverage with a focus on the legal question and implications for trolling and spoofing on the Web:

Parodies, pranks and freewheeling Internet discussion are at risk in a criminal case against a man accused of using online aliases to discredit his father’s rivals in a debate over the Dead Sea Scrolls, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Such tactics may be irritating, but they’re not crimes, attorney Ronald Kuby argued in legal papers asking a court to throw out nearly all the criminal charges against Raphael Golb. The court hasn’t yet ruled.

In this case, however, the defendant is alleged to have sent out an e-mailed confession under someone else’s name in order to discredit him. Golb denies the allegations, but his attorney argues that whoever did do that was only engaging in an “intellectual prank” and engaged in protected free speech.

Sorry, Mr. Kuby, but this is not a parody situation and this blogger does not think that sending out an e-mail while posing as someone else and “confessing” to plagiarism or anything other discrediting is protected speech. Should it be considered a criminal act, though, or is it “just” a civil matter? If someone spoofs your e-mail address and uses it to send out hate e-mail or e-mail encouraging attacks on others, is that a civil matter or criminal one?

It will be interesting to see what the court does with this case.

Update: link to Golb’s motion to dismiss provided by commenter scrollmotions. The defense’s rationale, articulated in the motion is overviewed as:

Influencing an academic debate and challenging the integrity of those with whom you disagree cannot be criminalized consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the State of New York. Since the object of the alleged “fraud” here is perfectly legal, and since it is not a crime in New York to damage someone’s reputation, that defendant allegedly adopted different identities to carry out legal acts cannot, and does not, render those acts criminal.

Update 2: Dec. 8:I’ve been sent links to other filings made this month on behalf of Golb:

  2 Responses to “2,000-Year-Old Scrolls, Internet-Era Crime (updated)”

  1. The First Amendment motion in this case is available at

    It’s a public document and can be freely distributed to anyone who is interested in seeing it.

  2. Thanks!

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