The Delaware State Supreme Court has held that where a defamation suit is brought against an anonymous blogger, the identification of that blogger cannot be compelled.

In John Doe No. 1 v Patrick Cahill and Julia Cahill, the court also considered the nature of blogs in dismissing the defamation claim. In particular, the court noted that:

Blogs and chat rooms tend to be vehicles for the expression of opinions; by their very nature, they are not a source of facts or data upon which a reasonable person would rely.

The court considered the nature and reliability of Internet communications when evaluating the claim.

This case involved allegedly defamatory statements made about a local councilman, Patrick Cahill, by bloggers posting on a community website. Cahill and his wife brought a defamation and invasion of privacy suit against four bloggers that were alleged to make defamatory statements. This decision concerns their efforts to reveal the identity of one of those bloggers, John Doe No. 1.

Based on the IP address associated John Doe No. 1’s postings, the Cahills sought to compel the disclosure of his identity by Comcast, which owned the IP address in question. The Cahills obtained an order compelling Comcast to identify the blogger, and Comcast, as required by law, notified Doe of the discovery request. Doe filed for a protective order to prevent the Cahills from obtaining his identity from Comcast. The Delaware Superior Court denied Does’ motion for a protective order, holding that the Cahills had satisfied a “good faith” standard in bringing their claim. The Delaware Supreme Court considered Doe’s appeal.

The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s decision, holding that the standard applied by the trial judge was insufficiently rigorous, and that it did not strike the appropriate balance between “one person’s right to speak anonymously against another person’s right to protect his reputation.”

The court also ruled on the defamation claim, rather than remanding the case to the trial court. Given the nature of the statements, and the context in which they were made (ie, on a blog), the court held that the statements were not defamatory:

At least one reader of the blog quickly reached the conclusion that Doe’s comments were no more than unfounded and unconvincing opinion. Given the context of the statement and the normally (and inherently) unreliable nature of assertions posted in chat rooms and on blogs, this is the only supportable conclusion. Read in the context of an internet blog, these statements did not imply
any assertions of underlying objective facts. Accordingly, we hold that as a matter of law a reasonable person would not interpret Doe’s statements as stating facts about Cahill. The statements are, therefore, incapable of a defamatory meaning.

This case generated more than a little attention, including a New York Times article and the submission of an amicus brief jointly authored by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.