STEUBENVILLE, Ohio - A settlement was announced Thursday in a case with implications for anyone who posts anonymous comments on the Internet.
The deal involves an online journalist, a group of anonymous commentors and a family who filed a defamation lawsuit over a number of online statements.
Under the agreement, the family will end the lawsuit against journalist Alexandria Goddard and the commentors.
Also, a statement from one of the plaintiffs will be published by Goddard’s blog, Prinniefied.com .
In an online post announcing the settlement, Goddard wrote that no restrictions were placed on future commentary, no statements were retracted and no money changed hands as part of the agreement.
Goddard was pleased that her blog was able to “provide a forum for locals in Steubenville to engage in important speech protected by the First Amendment,” she said, and promised that it would continue to do so.
Two attorneys from Cincinnati – Scott Greenwood and Jeffrey Nye – represented opposing sides in the case.
Greenwood, a volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio, praised the settlement.
“Technology may change, but the basic principles of free speech do not,” Greenwood said. “Our nation was founded on the belief that people may express their views freely, even anonymously. By using the court to discover these individuals’ identities, the family was attempting to pressure them into silence. We must not allow our courts to become a muzzle for constitutionally protected speech.”
The case began after two teenage football players at Steubenville High School were accused of raping a female from a nearby town.
Goddard blogged about the incident, allegedly because she felt that others involved in the incident should be charged. Others also posted online opinions about the case anonymously.
A juvenile student at Steubenville High School, Cody Saltsman, was a subject of some of the posts, which alleged that he had been involved in the incident but hadn’t been charged.
Additional postings mentioned other football players and focused on suggestions that some of the people involved in the rape weren’t charged and should be brought to justice.
Through his parents, Saltsman filed a lawsuit and requested subpoenas to obtain the identity of the anonymous Internet commentors.
Goddard, represented by Nye and attorney Thomas Haren of Cleveland, then involved the ACLU of Ohio, in hopes that the organization could provide representation to other still-anonymous defendants and fully address the First Amendment implications of this lawsuit.
A settlement agreement was reached on Dec. 22, executed on Dec. 26 and announced Thursday.
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