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EFF Asks California Supreme Court to Defuse a Time Bomb That Could Harm Anonymous Speech

DEEPLINKS BLOG
January 22, 2018

EFF Asks California Supreme Court to Defuse a Time Bomb That Could Harm Anonymous Speech

Update (February 15, 2018): The California Supreme Court denied Yelp's request to depublish the lower court's opinion.

In recent months, we’ve seen worrying decisions in state and federal courts that weaken the First Amendment protection for anonymous speech. Last week, EFF called on the California Supreme Court to limit the impact of one these decisions, Yelp v. Superior Court.

The Yelp case involves a defamation lawsuit brought by an accountant who claims that an anonymous Yelp reviewer defamed him and his business. Last year, a California court of appeal found that Yelp had to turn over information identifying the anonymous user because the plaintiff had a plausible case of defamation. As we wrote then, the court applied a test that failed to give full weight to the First Amendment. We predicted that the Yelp decision was a time bomb that “could invite a fresh wave of lawsuits against anonymous speakers that are designed to harass or intimidate anonymous speakers rather than vindicate actual legal grievances.” 

Our prediction may be coming true: Yelp told the California Supreme Court that it is already involved in another case where a defamation plaintiff is trying to reveal an anonymous reviewer without any evidence at all. 

To limit the damage from the 2017 decision, Yelp is asking the California Supreme Court to “depublish” the part of the opinion that invites baseless defamation lawsuits against anonymous speakers. Depublication means that the decision cannot be relied on by future courts.

EFF filed our own letter supporting the depublication request and calling attention other attempts to harass anonymous speakers. We hope the California Supreme Court agrees.

 

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