Evan Brown provides a summary of and commentary on a Ninth Circuit opinion issued yesterday concerning outing online anonymous speakers.
From the court’s opinion (pdf), the background on the case:
The proceeding before us is but a short chapter in an acrimonious and long-running business dispute between Quixtar, Inc. (“Quixtar”), successor to the well-known Amway Corporation, and Signature Management TEAM, LLC (“TEAM”). Quixtar sued TEAM, claiming that TEAM orchestrated an Internet smear campaign via anonymous postings and videos disparaging Quixtar and its business practices. As part of the discovery process, Quixtar sought testimony from Benjamin Dickie, a TEAM employee, regarding the identity of five anonymous online speakers who allegedly made defamatory comments about Quixtar. Dickie refused to identify the anonymous speakers on First Amendment grounds. The district court ordered Dickie to disclose the identity of three of the five speakers.
The Anonymous Online Speakers seek a writ of mandamus directing the district court to vacate its order regarding the identity of the three speakers. Quixtar cross-petitions for a writ of mandamus directing the district court to order Dickie to testify regarding the identity of the anonymous speakers from the remaining two sources. Because neither party has established that it is entitled to the extraordinary remedy of mandamus, we deny both petitions.
As Brown points out:
This is a significant case on the topic of anonymity because it is only the third federal circuit opinion to consider the question as to when unknown online speakers should be identified. The others are NLRB v. Midland Daily News (6th Cir. 1998) and Lefkoe v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, (4th Cir. 2009).