A Maryland court of appeals has set what they are calling a new "standard that should be applied to balance the First Amendment right to anonymous speech on the Internet with the opportunity on the part of the object of that speech to seek judicial redress for alleged defamation." The court overturned an earlier ruling that would have required NewsZap.com to turn over the names of anonymous posters who posted negative remarks about the cleanliness of a Centreville Dunkin' Donuts. "In a defamation case involving anonymous speakers, the ruling said, courts should first require the plaintiff to try to notify the anonymous posters that they are the subject of a subpoena. That notification could come in the form of a message posted to the online forum in question, and the posters must be given sufficient time to respond. The plaintiff must then hand over the exact statements in question, so the court can decide whether the comments are obviously defamatory. Finally, the ruling says, the court must weigh the anonymous poster's right to free speech against the strength of the defamation case and the necessity of disclosing the poster's identity."
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