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Linda Ellis is the author the motivational poem "the Dash" and actively enforces her copyright to this poem. Matthew Chan runs the Extortion Letter Info website (ELI), featuring a message board often used for exposing alleged copyright trolls and "extortion letter schemes." An individual who claimed to have received a copyright infringement notice and settlement offer from Ellis contributed to a discussion on ELI in 2012. This discussion developed into insults, accusations of copyright trolling and extortion, and other comments that Ellis interpreted as threats to her safety.
On February 13, 2013, Ellis filed a petition for a "stalking temporary protective order" with the Georgia Superior Court, asserting that she was "in reasonable fear of her safety." Ellis alleged that Chan posted threats of death such as "we are coming after you," along with personal information such as her home address. In this petition, Ellis requested that Chan be restrained from any acts that harass or intimidate her or her family and approaching within 1000 yards of her.
Chan presented a memo in opposition to Ellis's petition for an order of protection at the hearing on February 27. In it, he argued that the charges brought by Ellis were inappropriate under the OCGA §§ 16-5-90(a) and 94(d) and the elements of this charge of stalking could not be satisfied. Chan argued that a protective order for stalking was inappropriate as Ellis failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence "that [Chan's] actions ... placed [Ellis] in reasonable fear for [her] safety by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior." Chan also argued that Ellis failed to satisfy every element of the statute, such as contact and the purpose of harassment and intimidation. Chan did not contact Ellis directly, and did not follow or place her under surveillance. Further, Chan argued that his online speech, including the posting of Ellis's home address, was protected by the First Amendment. Lastly, as penalty for allegedly abusing the court system, Chan moved for sanctions against Ellis for filing a petition without substantial justification pursuant to OCGA § 9-15-14.
After the hearing, the Superior Court of Muscogee County issued a broad permanent protective order on March 4, 2013, with a cover sheet entitled "Domestic Relations Case Final Disposition Information Form." In the order, Judge Frank Jordan held that Chan "placed [Ellis] in reasonable fear for [Ellis's] safety" by contacting Ellis and posting her personal information in order to harass and intimidate her. Judge Jordan also emphasized Chan's ability to remove posts as the moderator and his decision not to remove those directed at Ellis. Judge Jordan permanently ordered Chan to remove all posts related to Ellis and to stay 1,000 feet away from her. Chan was also ordered to refrain from "contact of any type, direct, indirect, or through another person, . . . including but not limited to: telephone, fax, email, voicemail, mail, texting, spoofing, Facebook and other forms of social media."
On March 27, Chan filed a notice for appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. Due to delays in production of the transcript from the case, Chan requested multiple extensions of time to file the transcript; his third application for an extension of time to file the transcript was granted on June 28, 2013.
October 1, 2013: Chan filed his appellant's brief with the Court of Appeals, alleging that the trial court made four reversible errors.
First, Chan argued that the facts alleged cannot meet the elements of the charge of stalking, because publicly posting comments about Ellis online was not contacting her within the meaning of the statute, and that even if posting comments could constitute contact, he did not post his comments "for the purpose of harassing or intimidating" her. Second, Chan argued that he was deprived of due process because the court found him guilty of violating a statute (OCGA §§ 16-5-90(a)(2), relating to stalking in violation of a court order) that he had not been charged with violating. Third, Chan argued that the court improperly admitted an ex-parte affidavit containing "inflammatory, unsupported allegations." Finally, Chan claimed that his speech was protected under the First Amendment, the Georgia Constitution, and the Communications Decency Act.
Specifically, he contended that his speech could not constitute incitement to lawless action. Instead, he claimed, it was political speech, "a call to ‘rally the troops' to use public information about Appellee to show her hypocrisy vis-a-vis the theme of her poem." Chan further argued that the trial court's order violated the Georgia Constitution, because "Georgia courts have held that the State Constitution provides even broader protection of speech than the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." Chan also asserted that many of the allegedly threating posts were posted by other parties, and, as a provider of an interactive computer service, he cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of those posts under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Chan further argued that the court's order was overbroad, unduly burdensome, and exceeded the relief demanded by Appellee, because it "did not just require the Appellant to remove the few offending posts that Appellee placed in the record; it forced Appellant to remove all 1,900 posts . . . related to Appellee and her business practices and it forced him to do so forever."October 21, 2013: Ellis filed her appellee's brief, arguing that the elements of Georgia's stalking law were met, that Chan received proper notice of the charges he faced, and that, with respect to the alledegly inadmissible affidavit, Chan failed to object to the on hearsay grounds, much the affidavit was admissible, and any error was harmless.
Additionally, Ellis argued that the First Amendment provides Chan no protection, because his speech was a true threat-speech that was "intend[ed]" to put her "in fear of bodily harm or death." Even if Chan's speech was protected, Ellis contended that the trial court's order was narrowly tailored "because it is reasonably limited and allows other forms of communication." Ellis claimed that the permanent injunction is a content neutral time, place, and manner restriction subject to intermediate scrutiny because it merely "limits the place for speech, namely the Internet," leaving "open other channels of communication."
Finally, Ellis argued that the CDA does not protect Chan from responsibility for content posted by other users on his website. Relying on Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, LLC, 840 F. Supp. 2d 1008 (E.D. Ky. 2012), Ellis urged the court to find that Chan does not qualify for CDA protection because he "posts offensive content, comments, and encourages others to do so by responding to pending forum posts." This conduct, Ellis contended, makes Chan "more than a mere spectator on the ELI website, he is the ringleader."
October 30, 2013: Timothy B. McCormack of McCormack Intellectual Property Law Business Law P.S. submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of Ellis. McCormack argued that the First Amendment does not protect Chan because his speech was a true threat, and that the CDA's safe harbor protection does not apply because he participated in and encouraged harassing speech. He further argued "for a bright line rule" that Internet harassment is illegal, regardless of physical proximity," and highlights the negative consequences of Internet bullying.
November 1, 2013: Chan filed a motion requesting leave to file a supplemental reply brief in response to McCormack's brief.
As of November 5, 2013, the case has not been scheduled for argument.