Blog Street: Unmasking Cyber Smearers, Righthaven and Philly “Blog Tax”


Ninth Circuit Upholds Revealing Identities of Gripe Site Posters

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a District Court ruling exposing the identity of individuals posting defamatory content on a  gripe site. The 9th Circuit deemed the comments to be “commercial speech” (which is entitled to less protection than “political speech”) because it concerned Plaintiff’s “commercial practices and its business operations.” The Ninth Circuit agreed with the District Court that online communications present a “great potential for irresponsible, malicious, and harmful communication” and that particularly in the age of the Internet, the “speed and power of internet technology makes it difficult for the truth to ‘catch up’ to the lie.” Some have criticized the ruling for its broad definition of commercial speech, since it would treat all gripe site commeAdd an Imagents as commercial speech even where the issue may be one of public importance. On a related note, UK courts have also ordered that the posters’ identities be revealed in similar contexts.

More Info: Opinion, Court Upholds Order Unmasking Three Online Critics, Daily Online Examiner; Nighthawk Energy and Nostra Terra oust names of damaging postings on web forums, Guardian UK; Lifting the Veil of Anonymity: Accountability in the Digital Age, Yale Law and Technology.


Second Newspaper Chain Enlists Righthaven for Copyright Suits

Righthaven, LLC is  a recently created entity ownedto pursue copyright infringement claims on behalf of  the Stephens Media chain of newspapers.   The entity, which is owned by by Net Sortie Systems (which is owned by the lawyer bringing all the claims) and SI Content Monitor (which is owned by the Stephens family), has just secured its  second client  — WEHCO Media which owns 15 newspapers including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Righthaven has sued 124 bloggers, small publishers and nonprofits for allegedly reposting articles from Stephens’ newspapers.  Righthaven’s tactics which include filing lawsuits without any prior warning or demand and then asking the court to freeze and transfer the defendants’ domain names, have earned it the label of “copyright thugster” from  University of North Dakota law professor Eric Johnson and has sparked groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation to step forward and offer assistance to blogger defendants.  While Righthaven has not been a financial success (average settlements are approximately $4,000), it may have succeeded in sending a chill throughout the blogosphere.

Does Philadelphia Have a  “Blogger Tax”?

A perfect example on the use of nomenclature to frame a debate has been the tempest over Philadelphia’s “Blogger Tax.”  When bloggers started receiving deficiency notices for failing to pay for a city business license ($50 annually/$300 lifetime) which demanded payment for amounts that exceeded the blogs actual income,  it was quickly dubbed a “blogger tax” by a local media source and became the buzz all throughout the internet.   The reality is that there is no “blogger tax”, as the business license fee is not unique to bloggers nor Philadelphia.