(CN) – The 9th Circuit upheld an order requiring an employee of Signature Management TEAM to reveal three anonymous bloggers who allegedly trashed Amway successor Quixtar’s products and business practices on the Internet.
The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Edward Reed in Nevada, compelled TEAM employee Benjamin Dickie to disclose the identities of three of five anonymous bloggers who allegedly launched an online smear campaign against TEAM rival Quixtar.
The Web comments, which appeared on the blogs Save Us Dick DeVos, Q’Reilly, Integrity is TEAM and IBO Rebellion, stated that “Quixtar currently suffers from systematic dishonesty,” and “Quixtar is aware of, approves, promotes, and facilitates the systematic non-compliance with the FTC’s Amway rules,” according to the ruling.
Quixtar argued that Judge Reed used too high a standard in deciding that only three of the five bloggers could be revealed, while the bloggers said Reed failed to adequately consider their right to speak anonymously.
The three-judge appeals panel upheld Reed’s finding that the statements about Quixtar were commercial and thus less protected than purely political comments.
Commercial speech, such as advertisements, is not as protected under the First Amendment as political editorial speech, the court explained, which is why authorities typically can’t tell news companies what to report.
Compared to political speech, commercial speech enjoys “a limited measure of protection, commensurate with its subordinate position in the scale of First Amendment values,” Judge Margaret McKeown wrote for the Las Vegas-based panel.
Quixtar sells cosmetics, nutritional supplements and other products. In 2007, it sued Signature, where former Quixtar employees Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady now work. Quixtar claimed the former employees violated their non-compete agreements by blasting Quixtar’s products and business practices on the Web.