March 25, 2011
Vibe Magazine Editor Has Not Made Adequate Case to Unmask Online Critic, Public Citizen Tells Court
Jermaine Hall and Wife Say Poster on LipstickAlley.com Defamed Them
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The editor of Vibe magazine and his wife may not like what an anonymous online critic said about them, but 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, editor of the music and entertainment magazine that focuses on hip-hop culture, 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 message board. “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.”
The poster’s legal team includes New York attorney Ronald Coleman of the firm Goetz Fitzpatrick 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.
On Feb. 10, the Halls asked the Supreme Court of New York County to order Lipstick Alley to identify BETonBlack. They said they wanted to sue BETonBlack for defamation but needed to know who BETonBlack was.
Justice Eileen A. Rakower on Feb. 15 ordered Lipstick Alley to provide the poster’s name or explain why it should not be ordered to do so. Lipstick Alley then contacted Public Citizen, which has a long history of defending the right to speak anonymously on the Internet.
In the brief filed today, 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.