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Redditor allowed to stay anonymous, court rules

In a copyright lawsuit, a Jehovah's Witness has been given protections regarding anonymous online free speech.

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A Redditor is being allowed to remain anonymous in a copyright lawsuit, thanks to the First Amendment.
Igor Golovniov/Getty Images

Online free speech has been given a victory, with a federal court ruling that a Redditor can remain anonymous in a copyright lawsuit.

This means anyone from around the globe who posts on Reddit can still rely on First Amendment protections for anonymous free speech, because Reddit is a US platform with a US audience.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation fought on behalf of Reddit commenter Darkspilver, a Jehovah's Witness who posted public and internal documents from The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society online

Watch Tower subpoenaed Reddit to provide identity information on Darkspilver for the court case, but the EFF filed a motion to quash this, citing "deep concerns that disclosure of their identity would cause them to be disfellowshipped by their community."

In February 2019, Darkspilver posted an advertisement by the Jehovah's Witness organization that asks for donations, as well as a chart showing what personal data the organization keeps. Watch Tower said both of these were copyrighted items.

The Redditor argued it was fair use, because he posted the ad for commentary and criticism purposes.

The chart was posted to "provide information to people in the Jehovah's Witness community about the type of information the organization actually stores and what it does with that information," Darkspilver said.

The court said the copyright case is "sharply in Darkspilver's favor" but that if Watch Tower wants to press forward with the lawsuit anyway, it must do so against the Darkspilver pseudonym. 

Watch Tower's counsel is allowed to discover Darkspilver's identity under an "attorney's eyes only" restriction.

Reddit, the self-described "front page of the internet," was founded in 2005 and is one of the most-visited websites in the world. Currently, it's sitting in fifth place behind Google, YouTube, Facebook and Amazon, but ahead of Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, LinkedIn and Yahoo.

"On Reddit, there are highly personal topics that get discussed in a real and straightforward way because of the protection that anonymity allows, including frank opinion-sharing about social and religious organizations," a Reddit spokesperson said. "We support Electronic Frontier Foundation in their defense of our user's right to anonymous speech."

First published at 2:48 p.m. PT on May 22.
Updated May 23 at 9:24 a.m. PT: Adds Reddit's response.