Court Weighs Online Commenters' Rights

Comments On IndyStar.com Center Of Defamation Suit

The Indianapolis Star went to court Monday to protect the identity of an online commenter named in a defamation suit.

The commenter, who goes by the name of DownwiththeColts, attacked former Junior Achievement CEO Jeffrey Miller on IndyStar.com, alleging that mismanaged funds could be found in Miller's bank account.

A Marion County judge ordered The Star to reveal the name of the commenter, but the newspaper elected to take the case to the Indiana Court of Appeals instead.

Attorneys for The Star said giving up the name of an online commenter is a slippery slope.

"It's no different than Deep Throat saying to Woodward and Bernstein, 'You need to follow the money.' The commenter said 'you need to see where the money is,'" said attorney Jan Carroll. "All journalistic organizations need help from the public to know where the other lines of information to follow."

The judge in the original lawsuit ordered the Indianapolis Business Journal and WRTV to identify online commenters, and although both parties disagreed, they complied with the judge's order.

Miller's attorney, who has filed 19 separate lawsuits, said his client's reputation has been damaged beyond repair.

"He is in another city. I'm not at liberty to say where," said attorney Kevin Betz. "He is no longer socially or professionally able to live in Indianapolis because of this campaign of smear against him on these websites that provided anonymity to those defamers."

There is no timetable for the Indiana Court of Appeals to rule in the case.

IndyStar has since moved to a commenting system provided by Facebook.

WRTV's commenting policies have evolved over the years. Initially, users could comment "anonymously," without having to log in. That changed to a login requirement more than a year ago.

TheIndyChannel.com also has a foul language filter and a community moderation system in which users flag comments they believe to be inappropriate. After a certain number of flags, comments are automatically removed. WRTV/TheIndyChannel.com also reserves the right to delete messages and ban users.

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