Public Citizen visits lipstick alley

Today, we bring you the latest from Lipstick Alley. No, Ashton Kusher and Demi Moore have not broken up. However, Lipstick Alley, an online portal where members can engage in anonymous postings about the latest celebrity news is under attack, as are the first amendment rights of all Americans.

Jermaine Hall owns Vibe, a magazine focused on hip-hop culture. On Feb 10, 2011 Mr. and Mrs. Hall’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court of New York County to force Lipstick Alley to unmask the identity of an anonymous poster BETonBlack that they wanted to sue for defamation.

While the editor of Vibe and his wife may not like what an anonymous online critic said about them, that’s not enough for a court to order the critic’s identity to be unmasked, Public Citizen has told a New York state court.

Further, Jermaine Hall and his wife have turned to the wrong court. They should be in Michigan rather than New York, Public Citizen said in its brief, filed late Thursday.

“This is all about the First Amendment right of people to speak anonymously on the Internet,” said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who is representing the anonymous poster. “The Halls have not provided the required proof that would prompt a court to order the critic’s identity to be disclosed. And they are in the wrong place.”

When Justice Eileen Rakower ordered Lipstick Alley to disclose the anonymous poster’s name on February 25, Lipstick Alley reached out to Public Citizen,  which has a long history of defending the right to speak anonymously on the Internet. Public Citizen’s Levy is working with New York attorney Ronald Coleman of the firm Goetz Fitzpatrick, who is acting as local counsel.

The case stems from comments posted on LipstickAlley.com in November and December by a poster using the name BETonBlack. The posts criticized Jermaine Hall for marrying a white woman, insulted her appearance and said that he arranged for his wife to get contracts, thereby denying opportunities to African-American media professionals.

In the brief Levy filed yesterday, Levy said the Halls have not shown their case has enough merit to warrant the unmasking of BETonBlack. The Halls haven’t even alleged that the statements were made with actual malice – a higher standard of proof used in this case because Jermaine Hall is a public figure. In addition, the Halls have not shown that the statements about them were false or caused damage.

The case will be argued in Supreme Court of New York County on Tuesday, March 29.