Appeals Court: Anonymous Posters Can't Hide On The Net

By Steven Bonisteel, Newsbytes
16 Oct 2000, 5:44 PM CST

A Florida Appeals Court has upheld a lower court's ruling that ordered America Online [NYSE:AOL] and Yahoo [NASDAQ:YHOO] to reveal information they have about individuals who posted under pseudonyms on their message boards.

In a decision filed last week, the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami upheld a decision by District Court Judge Eleanor Schockett, who agreed in May that J. Erik Hvide of Fort Lauderdale had a right to find out who was posting what he felt were defamatory statement about him on financial message boards.

Schockett ordered Yahoo and AOL to identify eight "John Does" who claimed online that Hvide may have violated securities violations as the head of Hvide Marine.

Hvide was fired as chairman and chief executive officer of the company in the spring of 1999, just before the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors.

While the case is not the first ruling to ferret out anonymous online posters, it is the first to reach an Appeals Court.

After her June ruling, Schockett had stayed her order until the John Does could complete their appeal, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

A report by the Associate Press today quoted ACLU lawyer Lyrissa Lidsky as saying that the ruling was "not a defeat for all the other John Does in the pipeline" with similar cases, because the Appeal Court did not provide detailed reasons for its decision.

Lidsky said the ACLU had wanted the court to determine whether Hvide had actually been defamed before seeking to have the anonymous posters revealed.

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17:44 CST