A blogger who helped create sites that criticized the organization Art of Living as an “abusive cult” may remain anonymous for now, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh rejected the argument that the critic, who went by the name Skywalker, should lose his anonymity for allegedly infringing copyright by publishing secret training manuals. Skywalker allegedly posted the confidential pamphlet Breathe Water Sound Manual online.
Koh ruled that Skywalker was entitled to the same types of protection as political commentators, despite the Art of Living's claims that Skywalker violated its intellectual property rights. "The speech at issue here merits First Amendment protection," Koh wrote.
"Skywalker's condemnation of the organization is clearly a matter of public interest," the judge added. Contrary to plaintiff's assertions, evidence of copyright infringement does not remove the speech at issue from the scope of the First Amendment."
But Koh also said that Skywalker could later be unmasked, depending on how the legal proceedings progress. He has filed a motion for summary judgment, but if he is unsuccessful, the Art of Living can renew its request to unmask him, Koh ruled.
Skywalker helps operate the Wordpress-hosted blog "Beyond the Art of Living," which says its purpose is to support former Art of Living “members.” That blog, along with the Google-hosted "Leaving the Art of Living," characterize the organization founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as a "manipulative and abusive cult," according to Koh's opinion.
Last November, the Art of Living sued Skywalker as well as “Klim” (the operator of "Leaving the Art of Living") for defamation, trade libel, copyright infringement and disclosing trade secrets. The defamation and libel claims were dismissed in June, but not the copyright infringement and trade secret claims.
The gist of those accusations is that the blogs published "highly confidential" material about the Art of Living's "processes for teaching Sudarshan Kriya&rdquo" -- described in court papers as a rhythmic breathing exercise that "incorporates specific natural rhythms of breath to release stress and to bring the mind to the present moment."
The organization also sought a court order requiring the blog hosts -- Automattic and Google -- to turn over information that would identify Skywalker and the operator of "Leaving the Art of Living."
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Harold Lloyd ruled in August that the organization could learn the identity of Skywalker because he admitted publishing the material -- but not that of Klim. Skywalker challenged that order to Koh, who reversed the ruling. The case drew the attention of digital rights groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU and Public Citizen, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Skywalker's behalf.
The fact "that a plaintiff alleges copyright infringement is no more reason to grant discovery of a speaker’s identity than the fact that a plaintiff may allege defamation, or trademark infringement, or tortious interference with business expectancies, or disclosure of confidential information in breach of an employment agreement, or invasion of privacy or computer fraud and abuse,” the groups argued. "It is all too easy to bring a bogus intellectual property claim and hence out a critic."