I just read a story on the Washington Post site about a case before a Maryland Court of Appeals that anyone concerned about the preservation of their First Amendment rights will be interested in following.

According to the article, one Zebulon J. Brodie, who runs a Dunkin’ Donuts shop claims that he was defamed by some anonymous comments about his shop that were posted on NewsZap.com.  One commenter said that it was “one of the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen.”

Brodie is demanding that Independent Newspapers Inc., the company that owns the site, reveal the identities of the people who posted the comments.  Independent Newspapers is of course fighting this on first amendment grounds.

Frankly, I think that this is a no-brainer that proves to me that Mr. Brodie might well be better off changing occupations and selling home insurance instead.  Honestly, he and everybody else involved in and affected by the ruling in this case (pretty much everybody) would be much better served if instead of hunting down somebody who said something about his shop, he would simply give the place a thorough going over to make sure that conditions these anonymous commenters talked about were identified and corrected.

This isn’t going to help his business and he’s no doubt spending a bucket of money on this obsession that very much reminds me of Captain Queeg and the strawberries.

In the meantime, let’s all pray really hard that the judges in this case see fit to protect our right to be anonymous because as one lawyer stated, the right to speak anonymously isn’t absolute in every situation.  But extreme caution is in order because once anonymity is gone, it cannot be restored.

Technorati Tags: commenters, dunkin donuts, first amendment grounds, maryland appeals court, defamation claims, freedom of speech, anonymity, independent newspapers, court of appeals, brodie, first amendment rights, extreme caution, washington post, anonymous comments

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