Can internet service providers necessarily be compelled to unmask anonymous copyright infringers? In an opinion touching on Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) subpoenas, First Amendment concerns, and fair use, the Northern District of California said, in this one particular instance, no, granting Twitter’s motion to quash a subpoena seeking to reveal information behind an anonymous poster. (In re DMCA § 512(h) Subpoena to Twitter, Inc., No. 20-80214 (N.D. Cal. June 21, 2022)). The anonymous figure at the center of the dispute is @CallMeMoneyBags, an anonymous Twitter user who posts criticisms of wealthy people—particularly those working in tech, finance, and politics. Some such criticism lies at the heart of this dispute.

The “Ripoff Report” consumer complaint Web site is well known to those who follow rulings involving the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, including some who self-identity as “Section 230 junkies.” Xcentric Ventures, the operator of the Ripoff Report, and its founder Ed Magedson have been serial defendants in defamation cases brought by various parties who sought to establish that the site was liable for defamatory statements made by posters to the site. Xcentric and Magedson have prevailed in almost all of those cases, even in situations where the plaintiffs sought to establish that the Magedson and Xcentric employees either wrote or substantially edited some of the alleged defamatory postings and thus were not entitled to CDA Section 230 immunity. And the Ripoff Report boasts about those successes on the Web site.

Now a defamation plaintiff, instead of bringing an action against Magedson or Xcentric with respect to a Ripoff Report post, has filed a John Doe lawsuit and is seeking discovery of the identity of the authors of the anonymous posts via a third-party subpoena to Xcentric.