(CN) – A Colorado Internet service provider can at least temporarily shield the identities of subscribers who edited a Wikipedia page to say that high-end retailer Façonnable USA supports the terrorist group Hezbollah, a federal judge ruled.
Façonnable is part of the M1 Group, which was co-founded by the billionaire prime minister of Lebanon, Najib Makati.
In April, Façonnable sued a group of John Does in Colorado over anonymous comments made on the company’s Wikipedia page that the “M1 Group is purported to be a strong supporter of Hezbollah,” and “Customer’s (sic) of [Façonnable] should consider that their purchases provide support for an organization identified by the US government as a supporter of terrorism,” according to the federal complaint.
A magistrate judge granted the company’s request for expedited discovery to root out the identities of the posters, ordering Internet service provider Skybeam to reveal the names by June 3.
Skybeam, with the help of Washington D.C.-based Public Citizen, moved to stay the order.
U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello agreed with Skybeam and put the subpoena on hold.
“The court finds that Skybeam has demonstrated that the balance of hardships tips decidedly in its favor,” Arguello wrote on June 2. “If a stay is denied in error, Skybeam will be required to disclose the Does’ identities, which could harm the Does’ First Amendment right to speak anonymously. Any injury to plaintiff caused by a stay would be minimal in comparison because Skybeam has indicated that it has preserved and will continue to preserve the information that plaintiff has requested. If this court overrules Skybeam’s objections, then plaintiff’s suit for damages will merely have been delayed. Injury resulting from this delay pales in comparison to the potential abrogation of First Amendment rights that the Does would suffer if the court finds that the magistrate judge erred by refusing to grant the protective order sought by Skybeam.”
Arguello granted the stay pending her “consideration of and ruling on Skybeam’s objections to the magistrate judge’s order.”
“The speech in this case complains about the relationship between a company and a terrorist organization, which is surely speech on a matter of public interest and hence entitled to a high degree of constitutional protection,” Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy said in a statement. “Whatever the reason for speaking anonymously, a rule that makes it too easy to remove the cloak of anonymity will deprive the marketplace of valuable ideas.”