The Michigan Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments on whether the identity of an anonymous blogger who has criticized the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law should be revealed.
The blogger is a former student of the school; Cooley Law School sued him for defamation when he and some commenters on his site questioned whether employment data supplied by the law school was accurate using words like “fraud” and “criminal.” There has been a distinct rise in similar “law school scamblogs” over the past few years with “scambloggers” questioning whether a law school education is worth the financial investment and also, as allegedly occurred in the instant case, whether law schools are gaming the system with faulty data.
The school maintains that its employment information is correct.
At the beginning of this case, the school sent a subpoena to Weebly, the company that hosted the former student’s blog, asking for the identity of the blogger. Weebly complied and the blogger was identified in court filings; the court later found that the blogger had given up his First Amendment freedom of speech protections because of the use of such strong terms like “fraud” and “criminal,” but further rulings in the case have been postponed until the blogger’s appeal regarding the unmasking of his identity is ruled upon.
James Thelan, Cooley Law School’s associate dean for legal affairs, has said that Cooley “would like to proceed publicly because we don’t think anyone should be able to hide behind defamatory words.”
Paul Levy of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen is representing the blogger and is expected to argue that Cooley should have to show a legitimate reason to unmask the blogger. The defense also argues for a “test for the identification of anonymous speakers that makes it neither too easy for deliberate defamers to hide behind pseudonyms, nor too easy for a big company or a public figure to unmask critics simply by filing a complaint that purports to state an untested claim for relief.”
Revealing anonymous bloggers’ identities has been a hot legal topic for years now with varying results. As we’ve noted before at LegalZoom on this topic, the overriding rule is certainly Blogger Beware — “[y]ou’ll still be free to express your opinions on blogs and through online communications, but remember that just because the medium has changed doesn’t mean the laws of defamation have.”
What do you think of this case? Should the blogger’s identity be revealed?