Signature Management Team LLC v. Doe: The Right to Anonymous Speech Post-Judgment

May 7, 2018

The Sixth Circuit’s recent decision in Signature Management Team LLC v. Doe addressed an issue of first impression in digital privacy law, finding that anonymous internet defendants do not automatically forfeit their First Amendment right to anonymity once they are found liable in a civil lawsuit. The court’s recognition that the right to anonymity can extend post-judgment represents a modest step forward for advocates of the right to remain anonymous; however, some of the rationales and assumptions used to reach this holding could prove detrimental. The court’s formulation of a presumption in favor of unmasking liable defendants introduces a puzzling standard, which fails to adequately protect defendants against the irreversible harm of unwanted disclosure of an anonymous identity. Further, the court’s newly introduced test for balancing the rights of wronged plaintiffs against anonymous defendants misconstrues the nature of the public’s interest in open judicial proceedings, and understates the true value of anonymity to online speakers.