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Anonymous Critics' Identities Protected

August 26, 2005

Free Speech Prevails When Over 100 Defendants Are Dropped from Suit in Utah

Utah - Private information about anonymous online critics was protected this week when a Utah man dropped his lawsuit against people who had allegedly made critical comments about him on message boards and blogs, including the Yahoo! SCOX board. The plaintiff in the case had asked the court to let him use the subpoena process to unmask his anonymous "John Doe" critics.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU of Utah opposed his efforts, filing a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the First Amendment prohibits such subpoenas unless the court first confirms the merits of the litigant's claims. The Utah District Court agreed and demanded that the plaintiff submit additional information showing his good faith efforts to contact the defendants, the likelihood of jurisdiction, and the viability of his claims. Instead, the plaintiff declined to submit the requested information and dismissed the anonymous Yahoo! message board defendants from the case.

"In keeping with the nationwide trend, the Utah District Court recognized that an online speaker's identity should not be exposed unless the litigant can show that the claims are viable and that the litigant has no other way of getting the information," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "The court made the right call."

The plaintiff stated on his website that he had decided "anonymous speech is worth protecting." EFF agrees.


Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Kurt Opsahl
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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