Legal victory for message board ranters!

The 2/27/01 issue of The Recorder contains a report on a recent ruling: “Free Speech Win for Chat Room Rants - Court says message board users can trash companies.”

An excerpt:

“Attempting to clarify what constitutes free speech on Internet message boards, a California federal court ruled that individuals cannot be sued for posting disparaging statements about a public company, if the statements are opinion rather than fact.” The case is GTMI vs. several individuals.

This ruling follows an earlier and different case (settled out of court), in which a defendant criticized his employer anonymously on a Yahoo message board. The employer served a subpoena on Yahoo to discover the poster’s identity, and Yahoo (contrary to their assurances to users), delivered up the poster’s identity to said employer. The poster then turned around and sued Yahoo for disclosing his identity.

This case was making it look sticky for us message board ranters, not that I’ve ever seen any Dopers actually name an employer. At any rate, to sum it up, it’s now safer to post a specific rant against a named company – just make sure you are stating an opinion, and not divulging any sensitive inside information. And when in doubt, don’t. Those user privacy claims just don’t seem to hold water.

There is nothing new in the excerpts posted in the OP. Opinion v. fact is well known way of distinguishing defamation from non-defamation. In short, regardless of how disseminated, opinion is not untruthful.

As for privacy, no company can claim it will not respond to a subpoena requesting ‘private’ information. People tend to forget the fact that a subpoena (often now spelled supoena or even supena by those who don’t know) is a legal document titled after the first two words (in Latin) of the warrant in old England, namely “Sub poena …”, which translates to “Under penalty …” In other words, when the court orders you to divulge some info, it does so by first warning you of the consequences of failing to do so. Amazingly enough, companies don’t feel really excited about pissing off judges. :slight_smile: