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Comcast Needn’t Comply|With U.K. Order, Yet

WASHINGTON (CN) - Comcast doesn't need to comply with a discovery order from a British court before a subscriber accused of defamation has a chance to be heard in court, a federal judge ruled.

Issam Hourani, a citizen of the United Kingdom, believes that a Comcast subscriber used a specific IP address to defame him online.

He sued PsyberSolutions LLC and three people in U.K. court, claiming they tried to assassinate his character by portraying him "as a criminal involved in the abduction, false imprisonment, torture, drugging, rape, and murder of Anastasya Novikova in Beirut, Lebanon in 2004." Novikova worked for a TV news company in Kazakhstan, according to reports.

Hourani served Comcast with an order from a U.K. court requiring disclosure of the Comcast customer who used the IP address in question on certain dates. The order was part of Hourani's U.K. defamation lawsuit.

Per the Communications Act, Comcast can only disclose information such as customer IP addresses if a U.S. court orders it through procedure outline in federal law.

Comcast therefore filed a declaratory judgment action against Hourani in Washington, D.C., Federal Court, asking a judge to decide whether the U.K. discovery order is enforceable.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled Tuesday that the telecommunications giant must first notify the subscriber with the IP address in question, who will be given a chance to be heard in U.S. court.

"Comcast is found in this district, and it is not a party to the U.K. proceeding. Mr. Hourani, who is a party to the U.K. case, requires this court's assistance to enforce the U.K. discovery order," Collyer wrote in the 10-page ruling. "There is no evidence that the U.K. court would not be receptive to U.S. assistance, and there is no evidence that Mr. Hourani is attempting to evade U.K. restrictions on discovery."

However, under the Communications Act, Comcast's subscriber must first be given a chance to appear in the case, Collyer ruled.

"The subpoena is narrow, as it only seeks the name and address of the user of an IP address. Thus, the requirements of [federal law] are met," the judge wrote. "However, Comcast is a cable provider subject to the privacy provisions of the Communications Act...Thus, before issuing an order requiring Comcast to turn over the name and address of its subscriber, the court will require that the subscriber be provided notice and an opportunity to be heard anonymously."

Collyer ordered Comcast to serve its subscriber with both her ruling and the U.K. discovery order. After receiving notice, the subscriber has 21 days to appear anonymously in the case and file an objection to the discovery request.

If they don't file a motion in time or the D.C. Federal Court denies the motion, the court may order Comcast to give Hourani the subscriber's name and address, according to Tuesday's ruling.

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