San Francisco—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing an anonymous Reddit commenter who is facing an abusive copyright claim from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, a group that publishes doctrines for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today, EFF filed a motion to quash the attempt by Watchtower to unmask the online commenter.
The commenter referred to as “John Doe” in the filing is a lifelong member of the Jehovah’s Witness community. Using the handle “darkspilver,” Doe has chosen to share comments and concerns via one of Reddit’s online discussion groups. Darkspilver’s posts included a copy of an advertisement asking for donations that appeared on the back of a Watchtower magazine, as well as a chart Doe edited and reformatted to show the kinds of data that the Jehovah’s Witness organization collects and processes. Earlier this year, Watchtower subpoenaed Reddit for information on “darkspilver” as part of a potential copyright lawsuit.
“Much of the material shared by our client is barely copyrightable,” said EFF Staff Attorney Alex Moss. “That aside, the posts are lawful fair uses—legal ways to use copyrighted material without permission—and Watchtower should know it.”
EFF’s client picked Reddit to share thoughts precisely because Reddit allows users to speak anonymously. Darkspilver has seen Jehovah’s Witness community members who raise questions be excommunicated or “disfellowshipped,” where family and friends remaining in the community cut off normal social interactions.
“Courts routinely quash subpoenas like this one if they don’t pass constitutional scrutiny, and they should do so here,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “Darkspilver has a right to share their thoughts and feelings online without worrying that a baseless copyright claim could change their relationships to their closest friends and family.”
For the full motion to quash: