CommercialAppeal.com reports today that the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin have filed a John Doe lawsuit against a number of unknown defendants, including the pseudonymous blog operators of MPD Enforcer 2.0, who go by the collective moniker "Dirk Diggler."
MPD Enforcer 2.0 is a blog popular with Memphis police officers, and Diggler and many of its users are not fans of Godwin. They have been critical of his leadership and have set up a petition calling for his resignation, and the blog features an online voting poll asking users whether the police chief should resign. Unfortunately, the City and Godwin filed their complaint under seal so we do not know any specifics about the legal claims. As Amos Maki of CommercialAppeal.com notes, "[it isn't] clear if the lawsuit is aimed at shutting down the site or if it's part of an effort to stop leaks that might affect investigations."
On July 10, 2008, Godwin and the City obtained a subpoena from the Chancery Court of Tennessee for the Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis, which commands AOL to produce identifying information for the subscriber who created the email account associated with the blog. They then applied to the Clerk of the Court in Loudon County, Virginia -- where AOL is located -- asking that the subpoena be issued. As far as we know, AOL has not taken a position on the matter yet, and the website operators have retained First Amendment superstar Paul Alan Levy to help them in the case.
Another intriguing twist to the case is Diggler's mention of a previous legal run-in between MPD Enforcer 2.0 and the city. According to Diggler, when the website commissioned some t-shirts making fun of the police department's "Blue Crush" logo (who knew police departments even had logos!), the city sent a letter to the company making the shirts, claiming that they infringed the city's trademark. While we don't know much about the situation, it does bring up the interesting question of whether state governments can own intellectual property. The last time we addressed a similar issue was Sam's post about whether a state government could claim copyright ownership in its statutes. Admittedly, the policy considerations differ in the copyright and trademark contexts. We'd love to hear our readers' thoughts on this question.
Check back with us as we follow this case.