Â Is “bigot” defamatory enough toÂ pierce anonymity?
Thanks to Deep Cuz , who spottedÂ a legal fracas thatÂ revolves around “bigot” beingÂ usedÂ as an anonymousÂ comment to aÂ blog posting Â –Â andÂ the ruling by a New York StateÂ judge thatÂ the wordÂ isn’t defamatory enough to warrant the forced disclosure of the poster’s identity.
CuzÂ directed me toÂ Mike Masnick’s recent postingÂ onÂ Tech DirtÂ that, in turn, cites anÂ analysis of the caseÂ that legal writerÂ Vesselin MitevÂ posted on Law.com.Â Let meÂ explore a few of the nuances in this case.
MitevÂ says it all began in January whenÂ a disagreement overÂ school boardÂ policies erupted on Orthomom a blogÂ that is a sounding board for Othodox Jews in the “Five Towns: area ofÂ Long Island (New York state; Lawrence is one of the towns). AnonymousÂ commentsÂ labeled then school board member Pamela Greenbaum a “bigot.” She sued for libel and sought the the name ofÂ her anonymous detractor. That involved Google,Â which hostsÂ Orthomom through its Blogger.com site, and thus was joined the case, Greenbaum v. Google (102063/07). Mitev writes thatÂ Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman decided that:
“pre-action disclosure is not available unless there is ‘a meritorious cause of action’ and the information sought was ‘material and necessary to the actionable wrong.’ . . . Paul Alan Levy of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen Litigation Group represented Orthomom . . . “A person doesn’t get to identify the alleged wrongdoer without some evidence [of wrongdoing]. . .” Mr. Levy said.
In short, bigot is not insult enoughÂ to constitute defamation, at least not ofÂ a public figure.Â Note that in New York “Supreme Court” is the trial court so this is justÂ one decision and not, IÂ think, a precedent so much as it is aÂ prod to makeÂ us think about what responsibility bloggers have to police the comments on their site and what recourse people have to confront or refute harsh words said against them (for instance blogger Tom ForemskiÂ suggests a “Right to Respond“Â should be built into interactive media).
Mitev concludes his analysis by noting that neither Greenbaum’s lawyer, Adam B. Feder, of Feder & Rodney in Brooklyn, or Google’s attorney, Tonia O. Klausner, of the Manhattan office of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, returned calls.
Fascinating case. I wonder how many of these Google gets?