Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech in North Carolina

Note: This page covers information specific to North Carolina. For general information concerning legal protections for anonymous speech see the Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech section of this guide.

Only one North Carolina case, Alvis Coatings v. John Does One through Ten, 2004 WL 2904405 (W.D.N.C. 2004), has considered what standard to apply before permitting disclosure of an anonymous Internet speaker's identity. The court applied a "prima facie" standard, but it is not entirely clear what that standard requires in North Carolina.

Alvis Coatings v. John Does One through Ten, 2004 WL 2904405 (W.D.N.C. 2004)

According to court documents, ten anonymous internet users made postings on two online message boards that suggested that the company Alvis Coatings was deceiving its customers. Alvis Coatings sued the anonymous defendants for defamation, violations of federal trademark law, unfair competition, and other claims. Alvis Coatings successfully subpoenaed the websites that ran the message boards for the posters' IP addresses, and then subpoenaed two ISPs, Comcast and Roadrunner, for information revealing the identities of some of the posters. Comcast notified one of the posters, who filed a motion to quash the subpoena.

The district court's opinion is not a model of clarity. The court identified the applicable legal standard as follows: "where a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing that an anonymous individual's conduct on the Internet is otherwise unlawful, the plaintiff is entitled to compel production of his identity in order to name him as a defendant and to obtain service of process." The court did not, however, explain exactly what "prima facie" means. Some statements in the opinion suggest that mere allegations might be sufficient -- for instance, the court characterized the relevant legal question as "whether an anonymous Internet speaker is entitled to maintain his anonymity in the face of allegations that his statements falsely impugned a federally-registered trademark or otherwise disparaged the complaining party's business."

On the other hand, in applying its standard, the court relied on statements made by the plaintiff's Chief Operating Officer, apparently in an affidavit (or maybe in a hearing). Unfortunately, the court used the word "avers" repeatedly when describing the Chief Operating Officer's testimony, which obscures the fact that these statements were evidence, not allegations in the complaint. The court concluded that the Chief Operating Officer had "credibly averred that the statements are both false and damaging to the Plaintiff's trademark and to its business generally," and that this was sufficient to compel disclosure of the defendant's identity. The court did not do any analysis explaining how this testimony satisfied the particular elements of any of the plaintiff's claims.


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