Washington Expands Protection for Anonymous Reviews

Just over a month ago, I wrote about the fight Avvo has found itself in over defending online anonymity.

The decision is now in, and we’ve prevailed – the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court decision allowing Avvo to resist the subpoena seeking to unmask its anonymous commenter. And in so doing, the court articulated a test for unmasking anonymity in Washington state – a test that strikes the right balance between allowing discovery to proceed in legitimate cases of defamation and preserving anonymity.

For plaintiffs who have a legitimate case – and some evidence to back it up – the court’s new test doesn’t pose much of an obstacle. Show why you’ve got a case, and why you need to unmask the anonymous speakers, and discovery can move forward.

But for those people who file reflexively, who think “defamation” means “someone wrote something about me I don’t like,” who use baseless litigation as a means to expose and threaten those who speak against them? They can no longer rely the standard rules of expansive discovery to expose anonymous speakers.

From where I sit, that’s a very good thing.

N.B.: For more on the legal issues involved, check out this blog post from Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy (Paul represented the Doe defendant).