Quote of the Day - What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to.
With a hat tip to the So Cal Law Blog, we may have found our answer to whether bloggers can speak anonymously, apparently the first time any state supreme court has answered the question. In Delaware, at least, the answer is yes, with some heavy reliance on the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision creates a new standard for evaluating anonymous speech on the internet, and likens it to old-fashioned political pamphleteering. The case involved an anonymous blogger who posted on a blog allegedly defamatory statements about a city councilman and his wife.
Initially, the trial court applied a good-faith standard, set so low that it resulted in the trial court granting subpoena power to the political figure who claimed to be defamed. The trial court was set to allow the political figure, a city councilman in the town of Smyrna, Delaware, find out by subpoena the name of the anonymous blogger who posted allegedly defamatory statements about the councilman. The allegedly defamatory statements can no longer be found on the site (see anonymous blogger link).
The Delaware Supreme Court rejected the trial court's low standard, and instead set the bar fairly high to obtain an anonymous blogger's identity: "We accordingly hold that before a defamation plaintiff can obtain the identity of an anonymous defendant through the compulsory discovery process he must support his defamation claim with facts sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." That means that there must be no dispute of a material fact before the defamation plaintiff can even seek the name of the assailant, meeting each element of a seven-part test (see page 22 of the court opinion in the second link above).
In other words, the plaintiff must prove his entire case while the anonymous blogger can watch, doing nothing. That expensive process to prove your case first will surely deter these lawsuits seeking to stifle internet speech. At least in Delaware.