Maryland Protects Anonymity Online

A Maryland appellate court this week rejected a subpoena request by the owner of a Dunkin Donuts restaurant who sought the identity of anonymous online posters for criticizing the restaurant’s cleanliness.  I’ve not seen the court’s decision yet, but based on a Washington Post article the court appears to have extended the four-part test articulated in the New Jersey Appellate Division’s 2001 decision in Dendrite v Doe.  The Dendrite test’s purpose is to prevent a plaintiff from filing suit (for defamation, disclosure of trade secrets, unfair competition, or a similar claim) in order to wield subpoena power to engage in a fishing expedition to unmask the speaker.  The article quotes Sam Bayard of the Citizen Media Law Project:  “Courts are going to require the plaintiff or others seeking identities to make a heightened showing that they have a valid cause of action.”  More details on the court’s five-part test when I read the opinion.

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