Ky. student sues anonymous poster over allegedly defamatory comments on paper's Web site

KENTUCKY — A Kentucky college student is suing an unknownperson who posted comments about her on a local newspaper’s Web site andasking the paper to reveal the poster’s identity.

Kymberly Clem filed suit against the online poster, named”l2bme,” after the user left a comment on a Richmond Registerarticle about Clem being kicked out of a local shopping mall after a securityguard said her dress was too short — though she bought it there theday before. The anonymous comment claimed the real reason Clem was kicked out ofthe mall was because she inappropriately exposed herself to a woman and twochildren.

“It’s defamation,” said Wesley Browne, Clem’sattorney. “What she was accused of is a crime. If she had done that,that’s actually a misdemeanor that she could be charged withcriminally.”

Browne said the security guard was acting off a complaint about the dress,but said his client did nothing illegal.

The lawsuit alleges the anonymous poster knew the comment was false anddefamatory — a claim Browne said could be proved if the newspaperresponded to the subpoena and revealed the identity of”l2bme.”

“One of the things we want to know is who accused her of it,”he said, noting it could be someone with an interest in the case. “Thatmay change what damages we seek.”

But the newspaper is contesting the subpoena, said Kenyon Meyer, anattorney for the Richmond Register.

The Register contends that “l2bme” has a right to postanonymously.

“We think for the court to force the newspaper to divulge theidentity of a person expressing him or herself would violate their FirstAmendment right,” Meyer said.

Meyer also said they are arguing the poster should fall under theKentucky’s reporter shield law, the state statue that protects theidentity of journalists’ anonymous sources. In Kentucky, the law appliesonly when information from the source has been published.

That law applies, Meyer said, because a Register reporter wrote anarticle about the lawsuit, which mentioned the comment. The reporter alsogathered information that verified the poster’s claim.

But Browne said he does not think “l2bme” should be considereda protected source, noting the initial comment was posted with no action fromthe Register.

“It automatically goes up. They don’t fact check it, theydon’t do anything to check the source,” he said. “Wedon’t see that as a source of news.”

Meyer said this is the first time he has heard of a lawsuit over onlinecomments in Kentucky, but noted similar suits have been filed across thecountry.

Browne said he does not think the newspaper should be held liable for thecomment at this time. The Register removed the post from its Web siteafter Browne contacted them.

In addition to suing “l2bme” and subpoenaing theRegister, Clem has filed a separate lawsuit against the mall and thecompany that supervised the security guard.