Star Must Identify Anonymous Posters to Website, Judge Rules

Jeff Swiatek, Indianapolis Star, March 2, 2011

A Marion County judge has ruled, for the first time in Indiana, that news media outlets can be ordered by the court to reveal identifying information about posters to their online forums.

In rulings this week and last week, Marion Superior Court Judge S.K. Reid became the first judge in Indiana to rule on whether the state journalism shield law protects media outlets from being forced to disclose names of anonymous posters on their websites or other identifying information about those posters, said Kevin Betz, an attorney for Jeffrey Miller, former chief executive of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana.

The rulings came in a defamation lawsuit Miller filed last year. He is seeking to broaden the list of defendants in his case to include people who criticized him anonymously last year on websites run by The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Business Journal and WRTV (Channel 6).

{snip}

All three Indianapolis media outlets fought the subpoenas served on them to turn over identifying information about posters to their sites.

The judge ruled that The Star and IBJ must turn over the identifying information, which typically tells a poster’s Internet protocol address or Internet provider. Using that, an attorney can subpoena the Internet provider for the poster’s real name.

{snip}

Betz said he doesn’t see the judge’s recent rulings as weakening the state’s shield law, which gives broad protections to news reporters from having to disclose names of sources who provide information used in news stories.

“This is not an assault on the shield law,” Betz said. {snip}

“All it is is cyberbullying. And these kind of individuals need to understand there is accountability for that kind of behavior.”

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