Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech in Oregon

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

Oregon has little case law on the First Amendment right to anonymous/pseudonymous speech, but one decision, Doe v. TS, No. CV08030693 (Or. Cir. Ct. Sept. 30, 2008), deals with whether a newspaper can invoke the Oregon shield law to protect the identity of anonymous commenters.

Doe v. TS, No. CV08030693 (Or. Cir. Ct. Sept. 30, 2008)

In Doe v. TS, an Oregon state judge ruled that Oregon's media shield law, found at Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 44.510 to 44.540, protected the identity of anonymous commenters who posted allegedly defamatory statements on The Portland Mercury and Willamette Week websites.

According to the Portland Mercury, staff writer Amy Ruiz wrote a post in January 2008 about Portland mayoral candidate Sho Dozono.  In the comments section, a site user going by "Ronald" posted negative comments about Dozono's ties to a local businessman, Terry Beard.  The same commenter allegedly posted similar statements on the Willamette Week site. Proceeding anonymously, Beard filed a lawsuit against "Ronald" and other anonymous commenters and served a subpoena on The Portland Mercury and Williamette Week, seeking documents and records identifying them. When the two newspapers failed to produce responsive documents, Beard moved to compel them to produce documents identifying the anonymous commenters. The two newspapers teamed up to oppose the discovery request and won. 

Judge James E. Redman of Clackamas County Court did not treat the anonymous commenters as confidential sources. Section 44.520(a) of the Oregon Revised Statutes protects from disclosure "[t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public." Instead, the court relied on section 44.520(b), which protects "[a]ny unpublished information obtained or prepared by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public."  Section 44.510(1) defines "information" as including "any written, oral, pictorial or electronically recorded news or other data." The court characterized "Ronald's" IP address as data.

On the question of whether the newspapers obtained this data in the course of newsgathering, Judge Redman drew a line based on the relevance of the blog comment to the post it's attached to:

If the comment had been totally unrelated to the blog post, then the argument could be made that the Portland Mercury did not receive it in the "course of gathering, receiving, or processing information for any medium of communication to the public." (source)

Concluding that the IP address fit within the shield law's "broad statutory language," the court denied Beard's motion to compel. Presumably, Beard will not be able to pursue the underlying lawsuit without the identity of the anonymous commenters.

 

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Last updated on July 7th, 2010

   
 
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