March 4 — Twitter Inc. wasn't required to unmask the identities of two anonymous users who posted allegedly defamatory comments about a music holding company because of the joking nature of the tweets and the fact that they were onetime comments, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held March 2.
Judge Laurel Beeler wrote that the disclosure of the speakers' identities for the merely distasteful comments would impede their First Amendment rights to anonymous free speech.
A plaintiff seeking to disclose the identity of an anonymous speaker must show that there is a real evidentiary basis for believing that the speaker caused real harm to the plaintiff and that the need for such disclosure outweighs the First Amendment rights of the anonymous speaker, the court said.
Plaintiff Music Group Macao Commercial Offshore Ltd., a holding company for music products brands, filed an action against anonymous Internet users who posted allegedly defamatory comments on Twitter about its company, employees and chief executive officer. Music Group subpoenaed Twitter to reveal the identities of the two anonymous accounts in order to serve the complaint on them. After Twitter failed to produce the identifying information, Music Group filed a miscellaneous proceeding to enforce the subpoenas.
The court said that Music Group didn't show a real evidentiary basis in its claim against the users for onetime comments that indirectly accused Music Group's CEO of tax evasion and concealing things inside his body while on international travel. These comments were merely rants from “someone with an obvious grudge” against the CEO, the court said.
A comment saying Music Group encourages domestic violence and misogyny demonstrates an evidentiary basis for Music Group's defamation claim, due to the plain defamatory nature of the remark, the court said. However, it added, a comedic video immediately following the tweet showed that the comment was intended as a joke.
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