Ballard Spahr successfully represented a defense contractor in a case in which the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled for the first time on an emerging area of constitutional law—the proper limitations on the right to anonymous Internet speech when such speech causes tortious injury.
In Solers, Inc. v. John Doe, the court made clear that a balance must be struck when one party's desire to communicate anonymously conflicts with another’s right to resolve valid claims in court. The appeals court concluded in August 2009 that Solers had properly stated its tort claims against John Doe. It remanded the case to the trial court and set forth a five-part test for the lower court to use in this and future cases in balancing such competing interests.
The case involves the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), a trade association that offers rewards to individuals providing information about alleged software piracy and copyright infringement. When an anonymous tipster supplied false information to SIIA accusing Solers of piracy, the defense contractor filed a defamation action against John Doe.
Solers then issued a subpoena to SIIA seeking information about the defamatory communications and documents that would identify the tipster. SIIA moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that Solers' suit infringed on John Doe’s First Amendment right to remain anonymous. The Superior Court granted SIIA's motion to quash and later issued an order dismissing Solers' complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court of Appeals has now reversed these orders, making clear that Solers may proceed with its claims against Doe.