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San Francisco, March 3, 2020 – A Reddit commenter has won their fight to stay anonymous after facing an improper copyright claim from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, a group that publishes doctrines for Jehovah’s Witnesses. A U.S. District Court judge has granted a motion to quash a subpoena for the identity of “Darkspilver,” a Redditor represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
“Our client shared comments and concerns about the Watch Tower organization—something they have every right to do,” said EFF Staff Attorney Alex Moss. “We are glad that Darkspilver is safe from unmasking, and that a judge saw the important free speech and fair use issues at play here.”
Darkspilver is a lifelong member of the Jehovah’s Witness community who chose to share comments and concerns about the organization via one of Reddit’s online discussion groups. Darkspilver’s posts included a copy of an advertisement asking for donations that appeared on the back of a Watchtower magazine, as well as a chart they edited and reformatted to show the kinds of data that the Jehovah’s Witness organization collects and processes. EFF moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that the posts were lawful fair uses of the material, and therefore non-infringing.
Darkspilver had deep concerns that disclosure of their identity would cause them to be disfellowshipped by their community. Darkspilver has seen Jehovah’s Witness community members who raise questions be excommunicated or “disfellowshipped,” where family and friends remaining in the community cut off normal social interactions.
A magistrate judge ruled last year that Darkspilver did not infringe by posting the chart, but that Watch Tower should be able to pursue its claim with respect to the advertisement, subject to strict limitations. The judge ordered disclosure of Darkspilver’s identity to Watch Tower’s lawyer, so the organization could try to shore up its legal claims.
EFF appealed that decision to the District Court. An opinion released Monday said, “The record establishes that Darkspilver made fair use of the Watch Tower ad and chart. Consequently, he did not infringe Watch Tower’s copyrighted works, and there is no basis in the DMCA for a subpoena to compel disclosure of his identity.”
“This copyright claim was absurd from the start,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “The DMCA subpoena process is not supposed to be a pretext for unmasking lawful speakers.”
For the full opinion:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading organization protecting civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, we defend free speech online, fight illegal surveillance, promote the rights of digital innovators, and work to ensure that the rights and freedoms we enjoy are enhanced, rather than eroded, as our use of technology grows. EFF is a member-supported organization. Find out more at https://eff.org.