NachtLaw, by Nicholas Roumel, represents Dr. Fazlul Sarkar, a prominent cancer researcher who was subject to a vicious smear campaign, by anonymous commenters on an anonymously hosted web site. With false and defamatory statements, including document forgery, these anonymous posters not only cost the researcher a promising new job offer, but caused him to lose his tenure with his present University position. On behalf of the researcher, NachtLaw sued “John and Jane Doe(s)” and subpoenaed the website to learn the identity of these posters.
Under the still-developing law in this area, it is difficult to learn the identity of anonymous commenters. While the trial judge blocked most of the subpoena, the judge granted NachtLaw an important victory by ordering some of the information to be released. Both NachtLaw and the attorneys for the website filed “cross-appeals,” and the case is now pending at the Michigan Court of Appeals. A decision is expected soon: the case has been fully briefed and oral argument took place on October 4.
While anonymous posters have First Amendment protection, NachtLaw challenges whether they should be granted greater protection than commenters who post under their true names. This case is being closely watched by the scientific research community, and has elicited “friend of court” briefs filed by Google and Twitter, among others, on behalf of the website.
This case has also garnered international media attention, and was recently covered by the London-based “Economist”.
For more information concerning this post, readers may contact author Nicholas Roumel.