Sixth Circuit Sets Rules for Unmasking Blogger After Judgment

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By Alexis Kramer

Courts must consider the public interest in keeping judicial records open when deciding whether to unmask an anonymous internet author after a judgment has been rendered, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held Nov. 28.

The decision is the first to consider the circumstances under which a court can protect an author’s anonymity post-judgment, according to the opinion written by Judge Helene N. White ( Signature Management Team LLC v. Doe , 2017 BL 424035, 6th Cir., No. 16-2188, 11/28/17 ).

The Sixth Circuit ordered a lower court to reconsider its decision not to reveal the identity of a blogger who allegedly criticized plaintiff Signature Management Team LLC, a marketing company, and made available copies of the company’s copyrighted textbook. The district court in Michigan entered judgment for Signature Management, but it said that naming the defendant was unnecessary after the judgment because he already destroyed all copies of the infringing work.

The Sixth Circuit said the district court properly considered that the defendant complied with the court’s proposed order to destroy the infringing copies, and that the First Amendment protected the majority of his blogging. But the district court failed to recognize the “strong presumption” in favor of open judicial records, the Sixth Circuit said. It sent the case back to the lower court with instructions to balance the blogger’s free speech rights with the public’s interest in open proceedings.

Kerr Russell & Weber PLC, which represented Signature Management, didn’t immediately respond to a Bloomberg Law request for comment.

Joshua Koltun, counsel for the defendant, told Bloomberg Law Nov. 28 that the opinion is “an important precedent and a victory for the First Amendment protection of anonymous speech.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at akramer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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