An Oregon judge has handed down a ruling that will make it easier for anonymous posters to libel people on-line - and make it just about impossible for people who are libeled to do anything about it.
As reported in The Oregonian, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Pro Tem James Redman ruled in October that Oregon's reporters' "shield law" protects those who operate Internet forums - such as this one - from having to disclose the identities of those who post on them. The judge also ruled that under federal law the proprietors of the forums can't be held liable for what's posted on them.
Redman's ruling came in the case of Portland businessman Terry Beard, who sued the Portland Mercury, Willamette Week and Bikeportland over anonymous comments posted on their websites.
The posts about Beard "were mostly trash talk, comments that were probably more personally hurtful than materially damaging," writes Oregonian reporter Steve Mayes. However, "Under the right circumstances in Oregon, even anonymous comments that destroy a career or drive a person to suicide potentially could be protected" thanks to Redman's ruling.
The Eye's considered opinion - and let us make it very clear that our opinions are our own, not necessarily those of the Source or its management - is that this ruling sucks big-time.
Web forums offer a venue for the most sick, twisted, bitter, vindictive and just plain crazy individuals in society to vent their hatred for other individuals - or the world in general - from behind a screen of anonymity. The ruling essentially means that whatever vileness somebody accuses you of on the Web - embezzlement, child abuse, mass murder - you have no recourse against him or against the business that allowed him to spew his lies.
The Eye can't see what compelling public purpose is served by that. If Redman correctly interpreted the state and federal laws, then those laws need to be changed - ASAP.