Tennessee Ruling Protects Anonymity Of Bloggers

Stop SwartzJoining at least six other states, a state court judge in Nashville has ruled that anonymous bloggers are entitled to legal protections before being unmasked.

The judge ruled that people who seek to learn the identities of anonymous authors must first make a showing that they would be able to prove a libel case. With the ruling, the judge joined courts in Arizona, California, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Texas and the District of Columbia, which have held that plaintiffs in a lawsuit can't simply demand to know a blogger's identity without first establishing that they stand a chance of prevailing in a libel lawsuit.

The dispute centered around the blog Stop Swartz, which launched in September 2007 and carped on Donald and Terry Keller Swartz, a married couple in Davidson County, Tennessee who manage real estate.

The Swartzes sued the bloggers behind the site for libel and invasion of privacy based on posts made shortly after the site's launch. Those posts are offline now, but the Swartz's complaint spells out some of the details. In October, 2007, the blog alleged that the Swartzes committed arson by setting fires throughout the village of Old Hickory, according to the complaint.

Another post said that the Swartzes "toss out their renters 'without a moments notice,'" according to the complaint.

The invasion of privacy count stemmed from a blog post that allegedly republished a Cragislist post disclosing that Terry Keller Swartz was an ex-addict."

The case isn't over yet. The Citizen Media Law Project reports that the judge intends to hold a hearing in the future, at which he will balance the likelihood that the Swartzes can make out a defamation case against he blogger's First Amendment right to remain anonymous.

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