... A judge in California turned down a motion by Topix.com to quash a subpoena for identifying information on 178 anonymous posters ABC News reported. The judge ordered the Web site to discuss with the plaintiff couple which documents are relevant to the case. ... Mark and Rhonda Lesher of Clarksville Texas and a man who works on their ranch were acquitted of rape. But they say their legal vindication has not stopped the stream of anonymous posts on the Internet accusing them of even more serious crimes and their lives have been "torture." In a lawsuit filed in February the Leshers named the 178 user names responsible for the most scurrilous comments on Topix. They have been the subject of about 25,000 posts.
via Judge orders Web site to give up names - UPI.com.
Free speech requires anonymity when there is corruption. On the other hand, when cowards attack from the darkness, they may have other motives besides justice. A greedy shop owner might annonymously libel a competitor, for example, to drive customers to his shop. The owner of the publishing medium is ultimately responsible for the content. If sued, that owner could be fined, but that's where it should end.
Defamation of character is the communication of false information stated as a fact which brings harm to an individual or an entity, such as a business, group or government. For it to be defamation, the statement must be delivered in speech or in writing to at least one person other than the victim.
... Slander is used when the defamation of character is spoken. This can be person to person or a person speaking to many people.
... Libel is the defamation of an individual's or an entity's character which is published in a written medium
... most courts consider defamation of character made during a radio or television broadcast to also be libel, even though the defamation was spoken.
... There are a number of possible defenses against libel and slander, but the only one which is an absolute defense is truth. If the statement is true, it cannot be considered libel or slander.
Until recently, that is:
a three-judge panel in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upended a long-held rule of law that "truth is an absolute defense" when someone is sued for libel. The opinion has surprised some experts on libel — and, if ultimately upheld, would uproot basic legal tenets of free speech and the law.
The judges reviewed Noonan v. Staples, a case involving an employee of a business-supply firm who sued the company after an executive sent an e-mail to about 1,500 employees detailing why the employee had been fired for what the company said was falsifying expense reports.
The court's opinion said that even if the factual account sent to other workers were true, and apparently it was, the employee involved might be able to recover damages if the e-mail was sent maliciously — in this case, to humiliate the former employee. ... If the court's decision ever were to apply widely, the result could be ... A paralysis of public debate in which legal challenges ask courts to examine and determine possible motives of speakers, bloggers, filmmakers, journalists and others, rather than to review the truth of the facts. - baxterbulletin