Kazaa Sues Blogger Over Anonymous Comments
The parent company of the controversial filesharing service Kazaa has filed suit in a Canadian court against p2pnet.net over alleged libelous comments made in the blog’s comments section. The result of the lawsuit could have broad implications on the level of responsibility bloggers and forum hosts hold for third party (often anonymous) comments.
A publication of Interserver, Inc., run by John Newton, p2pnet was named in the suit alongside “John Doe, Jane Roe, Richard Roe, and Jane Roe,” all anonymous and still unknown commentators on Newton’s blog. The comments were directed toward Kazaa’s CEO Nikki Hemming in reference to a posting entitled “Nikki Hemming’s Money Mansion.”
The article relayed an Associated Press story about Hemming’s alleged sale of a multimillion-dollar Sydney, Australia mansion and funneling the funds to a tax haven in the islands of Vanuatu. The comments, listed in the suit by URL, are not currently viewable on the website.
Newton, who claims his website as a labor of love, says p2p.net brings in a very small amount of income. The costs of answering the lawsuit in court (to begin with), he says, are upwards of $30,000 Canadian. As such Newton will be setting up a way for fans to make donations for his legal defense while soliciting Canadian lawyers to take his case “pro bono”
Questions still remain in Canada and the United States about whether a blog publisher can be held responsible for libelous commentators. So-called “John Doe lawsuits” are becoming more prevalent from entities like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), fishing ISPs for copyright violators, and SEO company Traffic Power, who sued Aaron Wall of SEO Book for similar reasons to Kazaa. The Traffic Power case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds and the company did not pursue an appeal.
Some legal experts say the distinction may be made about whether publisher moderate the comments. If so, then that can be considered a form of editing, thereby becoming a choice of messages to convey. For others, the issue is about freedom of speech and not indulging companies in so-called “slap suits” filed to silence public detraction.
Critics applaud or assail the anonymous condition the Internet offers. While some think it is essential for free expression, others believe it opens up third parties to legal liability and shields criminals participating in unlawful or immoral conduct.