Monday, June 29, 2009

Ky. paper using shield law to defend suit seeking identity of anonymous commenter on story

A lawsuit against a small daily newspaper in Kentucky could make new law on the anonymity of online comments on news stories.

The story in the Aug. 13, 2008, Richmond Register, circulation 7,000, "was about a college student who'd been kicked out of a central Kentucky mall because she was told the dress she was wearing — bought there the day before — was too short. But the online poster, identified only as l2bme, claimed to have the true story behind Kymberly Clem's eviction — that she had exposed herself to a woman and her children who remarked on the dress. A furious Clem alleged defamation, with her attorney filing a lawsuit against l2bme and subpoenaing the newspaper to provide the anonymous poster's identity," reports Jason Riley in The Courier-Journal of Louisville. (Encarta map)

The Register, part of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., is using the usual defense of free-speech rights, but "is also using a more novel argument," Riley reports. It claims the poster is a confidential source under the state shield law, "because one of its reporters wrote a story about Clem's lawsuit and mentioned the comment. Judges in Oregon and Montana have ruled that newspapers don't have to reveal posters' names, but the Alton Telegraph of Illinois couldn't use that state's shield law to protect "the identities of two people who commented online about a murder investigation," Riley reports. (Read more


Anonymous said...

So, Al, if I say something defamatory in this comment, are you going to the mat to protect my identity?

Al Cross said...

I'm sure learned counsel would advise me not to answer such a hypothetical.