As state law struggles to catch up to the Internet Age, the Texas Supreme Court will decide whether a computer software company can force a sharp-tongued anonymous blogger who claims to be from Dayton to be identified by name so he could be sued.
The blogger, known online as Trooper, claims a First Amendment right to remain anonymous, calling Internet speech in blogs and chat rooms the modern equivalent of political pamphleteering and quoting a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said “anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”
But the Ohio-based software company, Reynolds & Reynolds, known as R&R, argues that Trooper’s missives — calling the firm’s chairman a thief and disparaging its top product as “crap,” among other criticisms — should not receive the same free-speech protection as political speech because they came from a self-described employee.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has not held that there is a right of anonymity … where it is simply an employee complaining and griping about his employer,” Grant Harvey, lawyer Reynolds and Reynolds, told the court during oral arguments in early November.
With the explosion of Internet platforms blurring the lines between professional news organizations and bloggers, commentators and pundits, the court’s ruling will likely set new ground rules in a rapidly changing media arena.
Trooper began a now-discontinued blog in 2007 called “Reynolds News & Information” that was particularly critical of Robert Brockman, who had acquired R&R earlier that year for $2.8 billion and became its chairman and chief executive officer. Trooper blamed Brockman for lost customers, a sharp decline in product quality and poor employee morale at the maker of computer management systems for auto dealerships.