CyberSLAPP / John Doe cases

These cases all involve defending people's right to remain anonymous when they post comments on message boards, as well as making sure that anonymous speakers' due process rights are respected. These cases, plus more, are also described at the Cyberslapp.org website http://www.cyberslapp.org/, a joint project of Public Citizen, EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Mobilisa v. Doe
Software development company seeks identity of John Doe who obtained email initially sent by company's CEO to his mistress and forwarded the email to company employees.

Embroidery Software Protection Coalition v. Ebert & Weaver
EFF filed a motion to block a brazen attempt to unmask the identities of anonymous members of an online discussion group for embroidery fans. The online group was created to share information about a long-running campaign to threaten purchasers of embroidery designs and software with copyright infringement lawsuits.

Doe v. Cahiil
The Delaware Supreme Courtprotected the identity of a blogger in the case of Doe v. Cahill, finding that the plaintiffs failed to meet the strict standards required by the First Amendment to unmask an anonymous critic. It dismissed the case Wednesday.

Burd v. Cole
On June 29, 2006, EFF filed to block an Oklahoma school superintendent's attempt to unmask the identities of a local website's operator and all registered users. On July 17, 2006, three days before a court hearing on EFF's motion to quash, Plaintiff dismissed his case.

2themart.com
EFF handled this leading case with the ACLU of Washington State. In it, a federal district court in the Eastern District of Washington held that the identities of 23 participants in an Infospace chatroom were protected from disclosure. The case contained a strong endorsement of the right to anonymous speech online and set out a rigorous test for releasing the identities of John Does who were witnesses, rather than defendants. The test asks: :

  1. Was the subpoena brought in good faith?
  2. Does the information relate to a core claim or defense?
  3. Is the identifying information directly and materially relevant to that claim or defense?
  4. Is the information available from other sources?

The legal citation for the case is: Doe v. 2TheMart.com, Inc., 140 F. Supp. 2d 1088 (W.D. Wash., 2001).

Ampex v Cargle.
EFF filed an amicus in support of a John Doe who was denied attorneys fees under the California SLAPP law. The case was handled by the Stanford cyberlaw clinic. The appeals court agreed with Stanford and EFF and reversed the lower court ruling.

E. Van Cullens v. John Doe
. The lawsuit claims defamation. It was brought in Illinois but the subpoena issued from California based upon comments on a Yahoo message board. The attempt to get our client's name was dropped after we presented a motion to the court noting the lack of evidence and claiming a SLAPP under California’s anti-SLAPP statute.

Hritz v. Doe
. The case was brought in Virginia (where AOL is located) against a Doe by a CEO of a company based in Indiana based on comments critical of it on a Yahoo message board. The case was dropped after we indicated there would be a defense to a charge of defamation and after the matter transferred to Indiana.

First Cash v. John Doe
. The lawsuit claims breach of contract but also threatens defamation and business disparagement. The case was brought in Texas and the subpoena issued from Santa Clara County, California based upon comments on a Yahoo message board. Working with the California Anti-SLAPP project, EFF assisted in claiming that the California Anti-SLAPP statute should apply to have the California subpoena dismissed.

Kesler v. Doe
. EFF has sumbitted briefs defending a John Doe defendant, a.k.a. "Mezzzman", from attempts to force ISP to reveal defendant's identity in a defamation case. EFF argues both First Amendment and anti-SLAPP positions.

Medinex v. Awe2bad4mdnx et al
. 14 participants in a Yahoo chatroom were sued and their identies sought from Yahoo. Lawsuit was brought in Federal District Court for Idaho but subpoena issued from Northern District of California federal court. Claims were defamation, tortuous interference with business relationship and wrongful interference with prospective economic advantage. After EFF filed a motion to quash the subpoena, the case was dropped.

Merkey v. Yahoo SCOX, Groklaw et. al.

Naas v. Anonymizer
. Ohio lawsuit against Anonymizer.com (a provider of anonymous Internet service) and several other parties (mostly John Doe defendants), in which a defamed plaintiff attempts to hold the service provider liable for third parties' defamatory statements.

Prepaid Legal v. Sturtz
. EFF was granted a motion in Santa Clara County Superior Court to quash a subpoena seeking the identity of two posters on Yahoo!'s "Pre-Paid Legal" message board. Pre-Paid had argued that it needed the Does' identities to determine whether they are subject to a voluntary injunction preventing former sales associates who work for a competitor from revealing Pre-Paid's trade secrets. The messages cited by Pre-Paid, however, indicate only that the Does were critical of the company and how it treats its associates. EFF successfully argued that revealing the identity of these speakers would give Pre-Paid the opportunity to punish its critics for speaking out against it.

Rural Metro v. Doe
. The case was brought in San Jose and was dropped after we indicated there would be a defense to a charge of defamation based upon comments in a Yahoo message board.

Southern Union v. SW Gas
. EFF handled this case before the Northern District of California Federal Court. In it, a Defendant in a case issued a subpoena to Yahoo! Inc., seeking to have Yahoo reveal the identity and online correspondence of Doe, a third party whose only known connection to this case is that he participated in a public discussion concerning Defendant's business held on a Yahoo! message board. The apparent basis for this subpoena is Southwest's conjecture that someone posting to the message board may have been doing so in breach of a Standstill Agreement in place between Plaintiff and Defendant during merger discussions. Based upon this generalized suspicion, Plaintiff subpoenaed all thirty-eight participants in the public discussion group who posted during the existence of the Standstill Agreement. The subpoena was withdrawn after EFF filed its motion to quash before the court.