In a ruling that sits at the complex crossroads of free speech and high-tech taunting, a New York City judge has ruled Google must divulge the name of a person who has been anonymously harassing and disparaging a woman online.
Carla Franklin said someone posted clips on Google-owned YouTube from a student film she made many years ago and included personal information about her, as well as sexual slurs.
The postings were humiliating, creepy and potentially hurtful to Franklin's professional prospects, she and her lawyer claimed.
Franklin said -- in her own blog post this month -- she believes she knows who's responsible, but she went to court last summer to get proof so she could potentially pursue further legal action.
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The court agreed that Google must turn the name over, which the online giant had resisted, saying it violated its member's privacy. Franklin said she hoped her case would help others combat similar problems.
"The Internet cannot become a safe haven for harassers and stalkers," she said in an e-mail.
As the Internet becomes even more entreched in society and how we communicate, the courts will have a difficult time balancing free speech rights with the rights of companies and individuals who are unfairly denigrated.
"There's a tension there – there's a First Amendment right to be able to speak anonymously, but there's no First Amendment right to violate the law," said Bennet G. Kelley, a California attorney who specializes in Internet law who is not involved in this particular case.
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"People think: 'It's the Internet. I can do whatever I want,'" he said, but "the law applies, online and offline."