District court of Nazareth, Justice Avraham Avraham (213/09), Rulling dated 19/01/2010.

Topic: Disclosure of the identity of a commenter. Criteria for the disclosure of a web users’ identity. Internet-based Slander.

Facts: Plaintiff brought suit in a lower court, requesting the defendant reveal the IP address of commenters to his articles, as they commented, he claims, defamatory comments. The lower court has rejected his claim. The following is the appeal.

Ruling: The request for the disclosure of surfers’ information is denied.

Main Legal Arguments:

The court overturned the ruling of the lower court regarding the slanderous nature of the publication. However, the court affirmed the ruling of the lower court and ruled that there was no basis to reveal the identity of the surfer. Because of the low level of writing in the comments section of an article or blog and the short and unimportant nature of this platform, there is but a meager chance that these will be taken seriously by the average reader, and therefore will cause minimal, if any, damage to the plaintiff. The court tipped the scale to the side of the importance of anonymity while surfing the web.

Finding the Correct Balance

In a slander or libel court case certain opposing interests are on the table. On the one hand, a person’s right to a good name, and on the other issues of privacy and freedom of speech. That said, we must enter another factor into the equation-we must also take into account the nature of the internet as a platform, contrast to the classic material forms we knew until today.

When we apply legal reasoning we know we must be aware of the uniqueness of the internet. The internet offers a dynamic, interchangeable, and interactive platform for discussion and must be treated accordingly. Under the same roof called the internet we can find content, commercial, educational, personal websites, as well as blogs, chatrooms, social media, and forums. And n almost all of these you will find the comments sections.

The ease of information accessing, a virtual ‘central park’ has defined a new generation and is the cornerstone of many democracies. The internet is a library of unending capacity, in which society has an interest in investing.

Anonymity in the internet promotes democracy, but at the same time also promotes chaos, it has advantages and disadvantages. The court has ruled that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and it must be seen as derived from democratic values such as freedom of speech and the right to privacy.

Criteria for disclosing IP address

The issue of disclosure of information pertaining to an anonymous web surfer has yet to be regulated in legislature. Notwithstanding, numerous justices have expressed their opinions in the matter, which can be divided into three basic views.

Three Basic Views of the Court

The first view, expressed by Justice Dr. Drora Pilpel, suggests that the platform upon which the defamatory material has been delivered is entirely irrelevant. The fact that the responsible party chose the internet, an otherwise anonymous platform, as a means of expressing libelous comments, should not grant them greater protection from exposure than if the material was delivered by any other means. Provided, of course, that the court has been convinced that the publication does indeed constitute an offense under Israeli tort law.

The second view on the opposite side of the scale is that of Justice Dr. Michal Agmon-Gonen, who ruled that because of the uniqueness of the internet, a person’s identity must only be revealed if their actions constitute a criminal offense.

The median approach is that of Justice Yitchak Amit agrees with Justice Agmon-Gonen about the uniqueness of the internet, but claims that “something else” must be added to the criminal criteria in order to determine whether the user information should be revealed.

The Nature of the Comment

The court has since adopted Justice Amit’s middle ground approach and ruled that the “something else” that is hinted at are questions such as the severity of the offensive publication (content-wise), whether the publication was a one-time appearance or whether it is a reoccurring phenomenon, the nature and significance of the publicizing website, the nature of the offensive publication (political, commercial, or personal), the nature of the offended party (personal or public figure), the level of importance that a potential reader would give to the offensive publication (because of the criteria above), and other such criteria which are intended to find the correct balance between a person’s right to a good name verses freedom of speech, and the importance of anonymity while surfing the internet.

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