Censorship

A Reddit User has won his Right to Remain Anonymous on Court

Written by Bill Toulas
Last updated March 4, 2020

A Reddit user with the nickname “Darkspilver” has been vindicated by the U.S. District Court of California which decided not to approve a request to unmask his true identity. The case involves the handover of a DMCA subpoena onto Reddit by “The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania”. The basis of the subpoena lies in the fact that Darkspilver posted images of documents belonging to the non-profit organization with the intention to criticize its fundraising and data collection practices.

The “Watch Tower” has been criticized before for being authoritarian, controlling, coercive, engaging in “mind control” on Witnesses, organizing indoctrination meetings, following regimentation practices, and finally imposing social alienation onto those who dare to criticize its practices and also their family members. Since Darkspilver is a lifelong member of the Jehovah’s Witness community, he was worried about the implications that the revelation of his identity would have, so he tried to defend his right to free speech on the court via his lawyers.

The man posted an advertisement that was published on the back of a Watchtower magazine and which was asking for donations, criticizing the approach on Reddit. The ad was titled “What Gift Can We Give to Jehova?”, which the user-perceived as misleading and blasphemous. Moreover, he published a chart that showed the kinds of data that the organization collects and processes. The Watch Tower felt that this constitutes copyright infringement as their material was reshared online without a license. However, the court has decided that the defendant's use of the material is framed within the “First Amendment” rights for anonymous online speech. As for the chart that was used in the Reddit post, the judge found no “prima facie” case for it since the Watch Tower had not registered it.

Last year, a magistrate judge ruled that the Watch Tower should be able to pursue its claims although the user didn’t infringe any copyrights, so this latest ruling came after EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) appealed that decision and stood by the side of the Reddit user. Following the District Court's decision, the Legal Director of EFF, Corynne McSherry stated: “This copyright claim was absurd from the start. The DMCA subpoena process is not supposed to be a pretext for unmasking lawful speakers.”



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