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COA to consider journalistic shield protections for anonymous online comments

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The Indiana Court of Appeals hears arguments Monday on a question of first impression for the Internet-savvy 21st century: whether news outlets have any First Amendment or state journalistic shield protection from being required to disclose information that could help reveal the identities of people posting anonymous comments online.

A three-judge panel made up of Judges Carr Darden, Ezra Friedlander and Nancy Vaidik will hear arguments at 1 p.m. Monday in the Indiana Supreme Court’s courtroom in the case of The Indianapolis Star v. Jeffrey M. Miller, et al., Case No. 49A02-1103-PL-234.

The Marion County case involves newspaper coverage of Jeffrey Miller, the former president and CEO of a non-profit youth education group known as Junior Achievement of Central Indiana. In March 2010, The Indianapolis Star published an article about an audit the organization was facing and a reader, known as “DownWithTheColts” posted a comment on the online story, saying the state attorney general should investigate Miller about missing money.

Miller and his wife, Cynthia, filed a complaint against officials with Junior Achievement and the Central Indiana Community Foundation on various claims that included defamation, and they later expanded the lawsuit to target the anonymous posters at the Star and Indianapolis Business Journal (a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer). Specifically relating to the Star, Miller sought non-party discovery to turn over information about the identity of “DownWithTheColts.”

Marion Superior Judge S.K. Reid last year ordered that information be turned over. The information is typically an Internet protocol address or Internet service provider that an attorney can use to subpoena the provider for the poster’s real name. The Star contested the disclosure order, and earlier this year Reid ruled that an Indiana journalism shield law that protects reporters from having to reveal their sources does not protect websites from being forced to disclose who made anonymous posts.

This is the first ruling of its kind in Indiana, and this case is part of a national trend involving claims that target anonymous comments on websites operated by news media and other owners.

On appeal, the Star argues that Indiana’s journalist shield statute, Article 1, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution and the First Amendment protect the newspaper because it is immune from liability for defamatory material posted by third-party users on the website. Amicus parties that have filed briefs urging the appellate court to block the disclosure include Public Citizen Inc., The Electronic Freedom Foundation and news organizations Lee Enterprises, Lin Television Corp, The E.W. Scripps Company, Gray Television and the Hoosier State Press Association.

 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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