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Macao Music Group v. Does

An off-shore conglomerate and its Washington state affiliate, which make and sell professional level audio and music equipment, brought suit in federal court in Washington state against the authors two parody Twitter accounts, named “Fake Uli” and “NotUliBehringer” after Macao’s CEO, claiming that the tweets defamed it, violated a non-disparagement clause that appears in company employment contracts, and violated various federal laws as well. Plaintiffs then issued a subpoena in the federal district court for Northern California demanding that Twitter identify the accounts’ owners, but Twitter objected, citing the well-known Dendrite rule, because plaintiffs had presented no evidence that the Doe defendants’ speech was wrongful. After plaintiffs moved to compel, arguing that the tweets were defamatory on their face as well as breaching the non-disparagement clause, Twitter took no position on whether the subpoena should be enforced but urged the Court to apply the Dendrite rule in deciding whether to enforce. Instead of applying that rule, the Court applied a less exacting standard. After Twitter moved to “clarify” the ruling by asking the Court to apply the proper First Amendment standard, Public Citizen moved for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae that explained why the Court should apply the Dendrite balancing standard and arguing that, on the record now before the Court, the standard was not satisfied. The district court adopted Public Citizen’s proposed standard and found that although there were a couple of tweets that came close to being defamatory, the evidence and context showed that they were more parodic than stating defamatory facts.