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July 26, 2012 / Admin

Anonymous Posters Held Accountable for Defamation

On April 20, a jury awarded Rhonda and Mark Lesher $13.8 million for defamation stemming from a bevy of comments posted on Topix.com, a website that provides discussion forums for news items.

In 2008, a woman  from Clarkesville, Texas accused Rhonda and Mark Lesher of sexual assault, but a jury acquitted the couple in 2009. The Leshers claimed the accusation damaged their reputation, impacted their businesses and effectively forced them out of town. While the legal chapter of the couple’s lives closed with the verdict, the reputational damage apparently continued unabated on the internet. According to an ABC news report at the time of filing in February 2009, Topix’s message boards contained  “more than 25,000 comments, on about 70 threads related to the trial.”

The lawsuit named as plaintiffs 178 anonymous posters of allegedly defamatory statements. Through the lawsuit, the couple obtained information from Topix.com that led them to three internet service providers identified by Topix.com as providing the IP addresses for the identified posters. The IP addresses belonged to computers used by employees of an automotive parts store a few hours away; a store owned by the couple’s 2008 accuser. The jury divided the award among the couple’s accuser, her husband and her brother.

While the suit ignited some debate on freedom of speech and privacy protections for anonymous posters in online forums, the award emphasized the avenues available to victims of slander and libel.  Defamation laws provide a remedy to those who suffered   as a result of someone else’s false statements. In 44 states, including California, certain categories of defamatory statements, such as accusations of criminal wrongdoing, possession of a loathsome disease, unchastity of a woman, and statements that cause reputational harm, are considered defamatory per se and do not require the victim to show that he or she suffered actual damage.

If you believe you have suffered harm as the result of defamatory statements, please contact Khorrami, LLP.

 

Image courtesy of http://www.rhlaw.com/blog/9th-circuit-unmasks-anonymous-online-speakers/

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