On Friday the Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus letter (PDF) on behalf of Global Voices Advocacy and the Media Legal Defence Initiative on an important case concerning anti-SLAPP law in California, currently being petitioned for review by the Supreme Court of California. Anti-SLAPP law sexist in numerous states to protect those speaking in government proceedings or on matters of public concern from facing frivilous lawsuits designed to dissuade them from speaking out. (“SLAPP” is an acronym for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.”) In order to quickly remove vexatious lawsuits while allowing valid claims to go through, courts considering an anti-SLAPP motion require plaintiffs to show that a lawsuit has merit before before allowing the litigation go forward. Under California’s anti-SLAPP law, this means the plaintiff must state and substantiate all elements of their claim if they want to proceed. When a lawsuit is based on a claim of defamation, this includes proving that the speaker acted with fault, either with negligence or “actual malice.”
The Supreme Court of California is currently considering whether to take a case that applies this law to anonymous online speech. In the case, Wineland-Thomson Adventures, Inc. v. Doe 1, a Massachusetts travel company named Thomson Safaris filed a defamation lawsuit in California against the anonymous publisher of a website called “Stop Thomson Safaris,” which hosts information about investigations and lawsuits filed in Tanzania against the safari company’s Tanzanian counterpart. The defendant brought an anti-SLAPP motion, and noted that the plaintiff’s complaint did not actually specify what statements the plaintiff alleged to be defamatory, as California law requires. The trial court denied this motion, however, and the California Court of Appeal agreed, saying the plaintiff could later amend the complaint to show what statements were defamatory. The Court of Appeal also did not require the plaintiff to prove the defendant acted with fault as anti-SLAPP law normally requires, solely because the blogger was anonymous.
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