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February 16, 2009

Topix forced to hand over identity of commentators

by at 8:12 am.

The on-line, public comment site used by the Lowell Sun, Topix, has been ordered by a Texas judge to ‘[identify] details about 178 anonymous commenters on the site.” A Dallas couple filed a law suit asking the site to give them details about anonymous commentators so that they can be identified. The site itself was not sued.

According to Computerworld, “Topix CEO Chris Tolles said that his company had received the subpoena and was currently figuring out what exactly it needed to do. Tolles said in an e-mail. ‘We prefer to make sure requests are clear and specific and not overly broad.’

“Tolles said that Topix takes privacy issues very seriously and that his firm would not ‘simply hand over all of our records’ without a review of the demand by its lawyers and a discussion of the issue with the court.”

Although in the past courts have protected the right to post comments anonymously, they have allowed lawsuits forcing web site to help identify the commentators.

This lawsuit will be watched closely not only in the blogsphere but also by first amendment advocates.

5 Responses to “Topix forced to hand over identity of commentators”

  1. Shawn Says:

    This is very good news…

    And it makes for a great first amendment discussion,

    the right to speech vs the right to redress of grievances… both first amendment rights in conflict in this case.

  2. Christopher Says:

    I’m not sure “redress grievances” comes into play here. The full phrase is right of the people to petition government for a redress of grievances, which I have always been taken to mean you have a right to communicate with your elected representatives.

    Also, why does this couple want to know the identities of commenters; is this a libel suit?

  3. Shawn Says:

    Petition the government for redress of grieveance is being used in another similar case.

    Basically, its saying that you have the right to redress grievances (sue somebody).. and thus have the right to pretrial investigations..including identification of the offender.

    The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through the courts (litigation) or other governmental action

  4. Tom Says:

    I can’t believe this suit has gotten as far as it has. There is little chance that the individuals who are allegedly libeling the plaintiff will be identified. Anyone who has posted on the Lowell branch of Topix can attest to that.

  5. fishydude Says:

    “Redress of grievances” in the constitution, from my understanding deals with grievances against the government not individuals. In fact, our constitution is premised on setting limits on what the government can do to us, not what we can do to each other.
    More accurately the Topix case has to do with “my right to swing my arms until my hand comes in contact with your nose.” So where is the nose in this case? I can exercise my right to free speech so long as I do not lie with the intent to do harm to someone else. Here, it is intent that is important. If I quote a source that turns out later to be incorrect but I believe at the time the quote to be correct, then I can not be said to have intended to harm.
    It is also true that many people use libel law suits to silence accurate by not positive commentary. Legalized extortion in a sense. “Shut up or I’ll sue you.”

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