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

KENTUCKY -- A Kentucky college student is suing an unknown person who posted comments about her on a local newspaper's Web site and asking 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 Register article about Clem being kicked out of a local shopping mall after a security guard said her dress was too short -- though she bought it there the day before. The anonymous comment claimed the real reason Clem was kicked out of the mall was because she inappropriately exposed herself to a woman and two children.

"It's defamation," said Wesley Browne, Clem's attorney. "What she was accused of is a crime. If she had done that, that's actually a misdemeanor that she could be charged with criminally."

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 and defamatory -- a claim Browne said could be proved if the newspaper responded 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. "That may change what damages we seek."

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

The Register contends that "l2bme" has a right to post anonymously.

"We think for the court to force the newspaper to divulge the identity of a person expressing him or herself would violate their First Amendment right," Meyer said.

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

That law applies, Meyer said, because a Register reporter wrote an article about the lawsuit, which mentioned the comment. The reporter also gathered information that verified the poster's claim.

But Browne said he does not think "l2bme" should be considered a protected source, noting the initial comment was posted with no action from the Register.

"It automatically goes up. They don't fact check it, they don't do anything to check the source," he said. "We don't see that as a source of news."

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

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

In addition to suing "l2bme" and subpoenaing the Register, Clem has filed a separate lawsuit against the mall and the company that supervised the security guard.

Kentucky, news, Richmond Register