Friday, September 23, 2016

Ky. Supreme Court says anonymous online critics can only be unmasked if allegations are proved false

Pikeville, Ky. (Best Places map)
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that "anonymous critics on the internet can’t be unmasked by a defamation lawsuit unless the plaintiff proves with evidence that what they said was false," John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by an Eastern Kentucky lawyer and chairman of a local airport board who sued two unknown posters for calling him a thief, embezzler and criminal on Topix.

The court wrote: "Without free comment on matters of public concern, totalitarianism can arise. And naturally, when public speech is ‘free,’ that speech will contain comments critical of those who seek to govern,. Indeed, it is inherent in a democracy that only by exercising one’s voice can the individual citizen truly participate in the governance of society. Sometimes, negative things just need to be said.”

Critics accused Pikeville lawyer Bill Hickman of "manipulating land appraisals, building himself an airplane hangar at airport expense and generally wasting millions of dollars in public funds," Cheves writes. He sued the posters, named as John Does 1 and 2, "for defamation and filed an affidavit that said their comments were 'not true and are totally baseless.'" He had hoped to unmask the defendants through subpoenas issued to Topix and the local internet service provider and demanded that their lawyer reveal their identities. Hickman's lawyer, who said they are pretty sure they know the identities of the posters, said his client is confident he can prove the allegations are false.

Larry Webster, attorney for the defendants, called the ruling a "victory for free speech." He told Cheves, “Especially in a small community, when you take on the establishment, it can lead to consequences, to ostracism, to repercussions. There can be more freedom of expression when people don’t have to fear what will happen to them for speaking out.” (Read more)

No comments: