You own a local restaurant. A competitor decides to play dirty, and goes online and posts anonymous lies about your place...the horrible roaches he saw on his last visit, the owner's child pedophile conviction, and the substitution of horse meat for beef...all lies. At Dozier Internet Law, we are retained to get these false and fabricated claims down and off of the web, but within days the comments generate other seemingly concurring and confirming statements (from the same anonymous source using different names) and the results are now at the top of Google search when your restaurant is searched. Your business has dropped off to a trickle and your restaurant is on the verge of financial collapse.
Public Citizen and Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the free speech group, want to penalize the restaurant! That's right. He urged a Maryland Appeals Court on Monday to make it much more expensive, difficult and time consuming for victims of defamation to get access to the courts. Today, the restaurant might elect to file a "John Doe" lawsuit and issue subpoenas to try and get the identity of the attacker so the attacker, and perhaps his employer, can be sued. Makes perfect sense. Public Citizen wants the Courts to require an extraordinary evidentiary showing before allowing information to be gathered by subpoena to identify the attacker because, well...."caution is in order because once anonymity is gone, it cannot be restored" said Mr. Levy. This extraordinary evidentiary showing would be much more expensive to the plaintiff and therefore, although Levy and Public Citizen won't admit it, the very existence of such a requirement will have a "chilling effect" on the ability of small businesses and individuals to seek legal redress through the Courts. At a time when anonymous speech is one of the biggest problems on the web, and people think they can say anything and get away with it, Levy implores the Courts to set things up so...people will think they can say anything and get away with it.
Dozier Internet Law explained this Public Citizen Litigation Group effort during a presentation last summer to lawyers. It is nothing new. Levy even got one Court to adopt his approach, but all others have flat out rejected the Public Citizen position. It strikes me that if "caution is in order", as Levy claims, he should deliver that advice to the many, many scofflaws Public Citizen Litigation Group openly encourages, supports and protects inside and outside the courtroom.
Because, unfortunately, netizens don't know better and actually believe the crazy advice regularly flowing over the web and blogosphere from the Public Citizen lawyers and Paul Alan Levy. And the web is a more dangerous place because of it.