May 292011
 
 May 29, 2011  Court, Online

Well, I bet a headline in The Telegraph sets tongues wagging by those who don’t understand how things work here. Their headline was “Twitter reveals secrets: Details of British users handed over in landmark case that could help Ryan Giggs.” A more accurate headline might have been, “UK plaintiffs unmask Twitter users in defamation case filed in U.S. court.”

Richard Gray and Nigel Green report:

For the first time, the American social networking site has bowed to a court action brought by a British group complaining that they were libelled in messages.

The individuals who brought the legal action were councillors and officials at a local authority, South Tyneside. They launched the case in an attempt to unmask an anonymous whistle-blower who calls himself Mr Monkey.

Read more in The Telegraph.

“Bowed to a court action?” Seriously, folks? Twitter, like any other American social network, complies with lawful court orders. This sounds like a straight-up defamation case brought in an American court seeking to unmask an anonymous poster. Under such conditions, the plaintiffs have to meet the standards used by the court to determine if sufficient evidence has been provided to demonstrate that the posts are not protected speech and/or that any defamation lawsuit is likely to survive motion to dismiss or summary judgement (or whatever test the court uses in determining whether to order anonymous posters be unmasked).

It is not clear from The Telegraph coverage whether the anonymous defendants attempted to challenge the action.

More to the point, this case is very different than the Ryan Giggs case where any action, should it be brought in an American court, would not be a defamation case as much as the issue of compliance with a UK court order. Can entities in the UK successfully be sued in the U.S. for not complying with a U.K. court order when that court order might be in conflict with our First Amendment? Can U.S. citizens be successfully sued in the U.K. or U.S. for not complying with a U.K. court order? Those are whole other issues, and I don’t think Ryan Giggs can take much cheer from this other case because the issues are so different.

Update: The reporting in The Telegraph about the South Tyneside case may have been even more misleading than I realized. See this blog post on Wired Pen.

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