Someone is defaming, harassing, or extorting you online, or perhaps infringing your copyrighted content online – but you don’t know who! Unfortunately, defamation on social media is a common occurrence, specifically anonymous defamation on social media, so how do you sue someone if you don’t even know who they are? Is it worth it? Can you uncover the identity of the anonymous poster? Well the answer is yes, you absolutely can! Depending on the circumstances of your situation, you may have the option to file a John Doe defamation lawsuit.
John Doe Lawsuit Definition
What is a John Doe Lawsuit?
When you take legal action against an unknown party, it is referred to as a “John Doe” lawsuit or an unknown defendant lawsuit. These types of lawsuits usually occur when a plaintiff is legally “wronged” in one way or the other by an anonymous website, blog, or social media account. Filing these types of lawsuits may also help you in the process of uncovering the identity of the unknown defendant.
John Doe Lawsuit Example
Someone has written a fake or defamatory review about your business on Yelp!, RipOffReport, Google or another platform. Now, your business is suffering, and you want to file a defamation lawsuit to get the fake or defamatory review removed, but first you need to discover who posted the anonymous review. Enter John Doe lawsuits! These lawsuits can also be used when an anonymous poster creates a defamatory YouTube video, website, or defamatory commentary on your social media page.
Filing A John Doe Lawsuit
When should I file a John Doe Lawsuit?
You should file a John Doe lawsuit as soon as you can. Even though you don’t yet know the identity of the defendant, it is best to file your defamation lawsuit as quickly as possible, because the statute of limitations may run out, and important evidence may get deleted or removed from internet servers. This is another reason why John Doe lawsuits are helpful. They allow you to file and preserve your evidence and claims before it’s too late.
Reasons to File A John Doe Lawsuit
- An Anonymous Blogger is defaming you or your business
- Fake Google or Yelp! Review
- False Rip Off Report Listing
- Copyright Infringement Online
- Revenge Porn
- False #MeToo Allegation
- Personal Injury – Hit and Run
Steps to File an Anonymous Defamation Lawsuit
Make Sure Your Defamation Claim is Legit
Hire an Internet Defamation Lawyer
This process can be complicated, especially since defamation cases like these are unique and not every attorney is experienced in Internet law. It is best to contact an experienced Internet defamation attorney to make sure all your bases are covered.
Prepare a Complaint
Your defamation lawyer will then evaluate your case and prepare a compliant based on the severity of the situation and what kind of damages you would like to seek.
Even though you don’t know the actual identity of the defendant, you need to send them a copy of the complaint on the same platform or website they are harassing you on. If they defamed you via Twitter, DM them on Twitter. If they wrote an anonymous blog about you, send the complaint in via their contact page, or attach it in the comments if possible. If an anonymous poster wrote a Rip Off Report about you, you need to post the complaint on Rip Off Report. You get the idea.
Uncovering the Identity of the Anonymous User
Once you have made the unknown defendant aware that you are seeking their identity, you can begin the process of obtaining a subpoena to uncover their identity. In Arizona, the requirements to uncover an anonymous poster’s identity with a subpoena is stated in The Mobilisa v. Doe case, but the process is similar for other states as well.
Hypothetical Summary Judgement
Your lawyer will ensure that you have legit claims. As mentioned before, you must meet all the requirements for defamation within the statute of limitations. This means that you must be able to show a judge that your case can pass the summary judgment requirements without the identify of the anonymous poster.
Then, your attorney will conduct a balancing test in which you would evaluate whether you could identify this user any other way and whether there any other circumstances that weigh toward protecting the author’s anonymous rights. Basically, they will make sure there are no reasons a judge should stop you from obtaining the subpoena.
Obtain and Issue a Subpoena
Once permission has been granted, issue the subpoena to the website or platform where the defamatory content is being hosted as well as the Internet Service Provider (ISP). In many cases, this may include GoDaddy as many websites are registered with GoDaddy or with GoDaddy’s “Domains by Poxy”. Domains By Proxy is a service that hides the name of the person who owns the site. Since GoDaddy’s headquarters are located in Arizona, it is important that your attorney follows the required steps outlined in the Mobilisa V. Doe case mentioned above.
Within the subpoena, it is important to request all of the necessary information that would help you obtain the anonymous John Doe defendant’s identity. But you have to be careful not to request information in a subpoena that is too broad. Examples of the type of information to ask for when issuing a subpoena to an online platform are as follows:
- Email addresses
- IP Addresses
- Browser type
- Operating System
- Times accessed
- Time on Site
- Service provider
- Any info from Google Analytics, etc.
Then, if you are able to uncover the anonymous user’s identity, we can amend the complaint and switch out the “John Doe” for the defendant’s actual name!
Protect Your Reputation by Contacting a Defamation Lawyer Today
If you are seeking to file a John Doe lawsuit, or if you need to issue a subpoena to GoDaddy or other domain registration company, get in contact with an experienced Internet lawyer today. Our law firm has experience with these types of cases and can help you to try and uncover an anonymous identity, sue for defamation, and, ultimately, get the content removed from online.