Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Calif. Federal Judge Protects Anonymity of Blogger Against Spirtual Group Subpoena

Seal of the en:United States District Court fo...Image via WikipediaIn  her 16-page opinion in Art of Living Foundation v. Does 1-10 (Case No. 10-cv-05022), United States District Judge for the Northern District of California Lucy H. Koh last week ruled against a spiritual organization that had subpoenaed Google and Automattic, Inc. to obtain the identity of Skywalker, who publishes two blogs critical of the group.

The Art of Living Foundation ("ALF") sued unnamed defendants in November 2010 for defamation, trade libel, misappropriation of trade secrets and copyright infringement based on two blogs' publication of ALF's "Breath Water Sound Manual" and teaching methods. The blogs, "Leaving the Art of Living" and "Beyond the Art of Living" are written by an anonymous poster under the pseudonym Skywalker, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Web site (www.rcfp.org).

ALF celebrates the spiritual lessons of "His Holiness Ravi Shankar" that emphasize yoga, meditation and breathing relaxation skills. Skywalker and his supporters argue the plaintiff is attempting to use its copyright as a tool to suppress their free speech rights. The defendants challenged ALF's subpoenas of the Internet Service Providers without revealing their identities.

To the degree anonymity encourages an individual to speak freely, Judge Koh wrote, compelling the disclosure of Skywalker's name "diminishes the free exchange of ideas guaranteed by the Constitution." Judge Koh indicated in her ruling that as the lawsuit proceeds to the discovery stage, the issue of anonymity may be revisited and the defendant blogger may not be able to continue to conceal his identity.

But at least for now, as Obi-Wan Kenobi used to say: "Use the courts, young Skywalker, use the courts..."

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