Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech in Montana

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

Montana has little case law on the First Amendment right to anonymous/pseudonymous speech, but one decision, Doty v. Molnar, No. DV 07-022 (Mont. Cir. Ct. Sept. 3, 2008), deals with whether a newspaper can invoke the Montana shield law to protect the identity of anonymous commenters.

Doty v. Molnar, No. DV 07-022 (Mont. Cir. Ct. Sept. 3, 2008)

Russell Doty, a former candidate for local political office in Montana, subpoenaed The Billings Gazette, seeking identifying information for three anonymous individuals who posted comments to an article on the newspaper's website in 2008 using the pseudonyms "CutiePie," "Always, wondering," and "High Plains Drifter."  Doty issued the subpoena in connection with a defamation lawsuit against his former political rival, Brad Molnar, in which he alleged that Molnar made false statements in 2004 concerning Doty's qualifications to run for office. 

Doty alleged that Molnar was one of the pseudonymous posters (Molnar denied this in a deposition), and that the other posters might serve as witnesses about the harm to his reputation caused by Molnar's 2004 statements.  The Billings Gazette filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that Montanta's shield law protected it from having to disclose the commenters' IP and email addresses. 

On September 3, 2008, Judge Todd Baugh of Montana's 13th Judicial District granted the motion to quash, ruling that Montana's shield law protected the commenters' identifying information.  Montana's shield law says that a news organization or any person "connected with or employed by [a news organization] for the purpose of gathering, writing, editing, or disseminating news” may not be required to "disclose any information obtained or prepared or the source of that information . . . if the information was gathered, received, or processed in the course of [a reporter's] employment or [a news organization's] business."  Mont. Code § 26-1-902(1).  Judge Baugh agreed with the Gazette's argument that this language is broad enough to encompass data gathered when a newspaper website user posts a comment. 


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