The New York Times reports on a lawsuit that concerns freedom of speech, especially anonymous speech:
In December, a fake news release was sent out by a group claiming to be Koch Industries, the oil processing company owned by Charles and David Koch, the Republican donors, arts benefactors and global warming skeptics. Under the headline “Koch Industries Announces New Environmental Commitments,” the fake release said that after “a recent internal and thorough company review,” the company would be “restructuring its support of climate change research and advocacy initiatives.”
Months later, the company, based in Wichita, Kan., is still pursuing the identities of the members of the group that claimed responsibility for the prank, Youth for Climate Truth. […] A first step for Koch was to go to court in Utah to compel an Internet service provider to provide information on who set up the Web site cited in the release, and thus determine who could be sued. (The group’s lawyer, Deepak Gupta of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, is so confident that its actions are protected by the Constitution that he contends that lifting anonymity must be the purpose of the lawsuit.) […]
The episode goes to the heart of the one of paradoxes of the digital age. On the Internet, parody and mockery have never been easier to pull off. During the BP oil spill last year, the Twitter feed BPGlobalPR, with stinging, oafish comments purporting to represent the company’s public relations staff, had more than 10 times as many followers as the official one, BP_America.
But the digital age also makes it possible to trace the parody to its origins in a way that wasn’t possible in an analog world. The English pamphleteer and rabble-rouser who wrote as Junius in the 18th century has never been definitively identified. But then, Junius didn’t have to register with an I.S.P.
“We assumed they would be upset about it,” said one of the anonymous pranksters in a telephone interview arranged by Mr. Gupta. “But we had no guess that they would go to the level of a lawsuit. It’s ridiculous and overblown. What we did is completely acceptable, as parody.” […]
But parody is a well-protected form of free speech, so in this case, the Koch company is resorting to an indirect legal theory in order to get private information from the Internet service provider. In a brief explanation of the Utah lawsuit on its Web site, the company wrote: “We are not seeking in any way to silence our critics. This lawsuit was filed because the integrity of our computer systems and our valuable intellectual property was compromised and used without permission, in violation of the terms of service and federal law.”