The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union have told a federal district court that the presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) should not be able to unmask an anonymous YouTube user who uploaded an offensive video attacking Jon Huntsman.
The amateur-looking video, titled “Jon Huntsman’s Values,” suggested the former candidate lacked American values based on his time spent abroad and the adoption of children from India and China. The video was uploaded by a user named “NHLiberty4Paul.” A corresponding Twitter account publicized the video on January 4, the day both accounts were created and the video was uploaded.
The video was reported by Breitbart.tv, RedState, Mediaite and several other media outlets, some of which implied it was an official video of Paul’s campaign. Soon afterward, Paul disavowed the video.
In a complaint filed January 13, Paul asserted that the use of his name infringed his trademark and defamed him by improperly implying that he was behind it. The campaign has moved to identify the anonymous YouTube user, and seeks to have the video removed from the web and for the user to be prohibited from ever using Paul’s name.
But Public Citizen, the EFF, and the ACLU said in an amicus brief (PDF) that the YouTube user has a First Amendment right to speak anonymously and cannot be subpoenaed unless the complaint produces evidence showing that there is a realistic chance that the lawsuit will be successful. The brief also argued that trademark law does not allow lawsuits over purely noncommercial political speech.
“I do not doubt that Paul has suffered abuse at the hands of his electoral adversaries over this video, condemning him for the actions of putative supporters, and perhaps he has concluded that the best way to show his disapproval of the video is to sue its makers,” said Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney who specializes in Internet free speech.
“But if Paul sets a new standard, that the only way you can distance yourself from obnoxious statements by your putative supporters is to sue them on trademark and defamation grounds, on the theory that they have unlawfully associated you with their obnoxious views, Paul will have done serious damage to liberty.”