Yahoo Sued over Message Board Posts

An attorney has sued Yahoo, charging the portal didn’t do enough to help him stop personal attacks against him on its message boards. He hopes to make the suit a class action.

Stephen Galton, a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles, California, filedsuit on Wednesday. Galton claims the Internet company hasprotected people who have posted potentially defamatory comments whilefalsely claiming that it monitors boards to prevent such abuse.

“We are declining to comment on this lawsuit,” Yahoo spokesperson MaryOsako told the E-Commerce Times.

Yahoo Terms of Use

Yahoo message boards direct users to a terms of use notice that saysin part, “messages that harass, abuse or threaten other members;have obscene or otherwise objectionable content; have spam, commercialor advertising content or links may be removed.” It also states: “Neverassume that you are completely anonymous and cannot be identified byyour posts.”

In the suit, Galton claims that he registered for Yahoo message boardsearlier this year after a derogatory post about one of his clients wasbrought to his attention.

After posting a response under the screen name “stephengalton,” he said,other board users began to personally attack him, calling him a”shyster,” and an “overly robust geezer that makes a living walkingbehind the elephant with a shovel.”

In April, Galton moved to file suit directly against some of the messageboard posters and asked in a subpoena for Yahoo to provide personal andidentifying information about those using aliases. Yahoo responded withincomplete or inaccurate information, the complaint alleges.

Class Action Suit?

Galton is leaving the suit open for others to join, proposing toestablish a class action suit on behalf of California residents who — since 2000 — have beentargeted by abusive messages on a Yahoo board and deniedinformation about their attackers.

Although specific dollar amounts are not mentioned in the suit, Galton isseeking restitution for his costs as well as an injunction againstYahoo.

Attempts to reach Galton at his firm, Galton & Helm, were notsuccessful.

Yahoo’s Defenders

Yahoo will almost certainly find plenty of allies amongcivil libertarians and other groups.

Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF),said anonymity is a bedrock principal of public commentary in the United States.

“The idea is that if you want people to speak freely about issues ofpublic concern you need to give them the option of not having their namesrevealed,” Cohn told the E-Commerce Times.

The EFF has been involved in a number of cases in which it argued in favor ofprotecting the anonymity of message board users, including several suitsstemming from comments posted on Yahoo boards.

California has been at the forefront of protecting freedom,and even anonymity, online. A state lawmaker recently filed a bill thatwould require Internet service providers to inform users when someoneattempts to find out their identity through a subpoena.

Not Libel

Galton is not suing Yahoo for libel, likely because recent case law haslargely indemnified Internet companies from being held accountable inlibel suits. The case law holds that the responsibility for posting erroneous and damaging information lies primarily with the person who posts it, not the Internet company.

The most recent case involved an aggrievedeBay user whose suit against the auction site was tossed out.

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