The vagaries of free speech on the Internet are being challenged once again in a case against Wikipedia for anonymously publishing critical comments about a private Catholic high school in Omaha, Nebraska, reports eSchool News. The school, VJ and Angela Skutt Catholic High School, is suing Wikipedia over the publication of disparaging comments about the school and administrators, which could damage its reputation. For example:
"It's [sic] tuition is ridiculously high, too. Not to mention you get an awful education there. They put more emphasis on sports than they do education. No wonder almost all kids there are complete idiots."
School officials apparently don't know who posted the remarks and have issued subpoenas to ISP Cox Communications. A Cox spokeswoman said the company intends to comply with the subpoena for the names of the posters.
The case is not dissimilar to one in which Apple Computer issued subpoenas to the ISPs of websites who published stolen documents. The California Court of Appeals ruled that the federal Stored Communications Act (as well as the First Amendment and the California shield law) prevented disclosure.
The case could set a precedent for determining the legal boundaries of free speech online but the outcome of a case such as this is unclear.
"The law is a mixed bag right now," said John Seigenthaler, a retired journalist and founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "I can understand how anybody feels pain, but it's still a very difficult row to hoe."