The editor of a hip hop entertainment magazine and his wife are seeking a court order to disclose the identity of an anonymous online critic.
In November and December of 2010, a poster using the name BETonBlack called Jermaine Hall, the editor of Vibe magazine, an “Uncle Tom” for marrying a white woman and insulted his wife’s appearance. The comments were made on LipstickAlley.com, an online message board. BETonBlack also claimed that Hall arranged for his wife to get contracts rather than providing those opportunities to African-Americans.
The Halls filed an Order to Show Cause with the Supreme Court of New York County on February 10, seeking to expose the poster’s identity.
After being ordered by Justice Eileen A. Rakower to identify BETonBlack, who the Halls are seeking to sue for defamation, Lipstick Alley contacted the consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen.
“This is all about the First Amendment right of people to speak anonymously on the Internet,” Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who is representing the message board, said. “The Halls have not provided the required proof that would prompt a court to order the critic’s identity to be disclosed.”
The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously, Levy claimed in a brief filed Friday, and the the Halls have not shown their case has enough merit to warrant the unmasking of BETonBlack.
He said the Halls have not provided evidence that the statements about them were false or caused damage. As a public figure, Jermaine Hall must show that the statements were made with actual malice.
“The Supreme Court has treated the Internet as a forum of preeminent importance because it places in the hands of any individual who wants to express views the opportunity to reach other members of the public who are hundreds or even thousands of miles away, at virtually no cost,” Levy explained. “Whatever the reason for wanting to speak anonymously, a rule that makes it too easy to remove the cloak of anonymity will deprive the marketplace of ideas of valuable contributions.”
He also argued that the subpoena had been sought in the wrong court, since Lipstick Alley is based in Michigan.