December 13, 2011

Online commenter IDs may be divulged

This is definitely an emerging topic, folks may want to review a 2009 Times Newspaper Editorial which explains many things.
12-13-2011 Indiana:

INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Court of Appeals seems likely to require disclosure of the names and identifying information of anonymous commenters who make defamatory statements on newspaper websites.

A three-judge appellate panel clearly was not persuaded Monday by an Indianapolis Star argument that online comments are the equivalent of anonymous news tips, which would exempt them from disclosure under Indiana's journalist shield law.

The state's largest newspaper was sued last year after online reader "Downwiththecolts" accused Jeffrey Miller, former CEO of Junior Achievement of Indiana, of stealing the business education group's funds in the comments section of a story about Miller's retirement.

A Marion County court ordered the Star in March to share its information about "Downwiththecolts" with Miller, who intends to sue for defamation.

Miller's attorney, Kevin Betz, said the Star cannot be allowed to protect a commenter who made false statements harming Miller's reputation.

"This is not about free speech. This is about illegal speech," Betz said. "This is an attempt to tell the victim of defamation, who has a constitutional right to repair his reputation, that you're toast."

Judge Carr Darden and Judge Nancy Vaidik, a Porter County native, spent much of the hourlong oral argument session bouncing questions off the attorneys and each other about how best to require disclosure of the names of anonymous commenters.

Vaidik said from the bench she didn't understand why the Star was defending anonymous online comments.

"Why would a newspaper want to provide protection for a blogger that they're not using as a confidential source?" Vaidik asked.

An appeals court ruling is expected early next year.

The decision is almost certain to be appealed to the state Supreme Court, as this is the first Indiana case examining anonymous online comments.

The Times generally does not reveal the identity of anonymous online commenters and often does not even know who is commenting as only requires a valid email address to register to comment. ..Source.. by Dan Carden

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