Concluding a two-year legal battle against a group of anonymous online commenters, two former Yale Law School students have settled their high-profile lawsuit.
Attorneys for the two students, Heide Iravani LAW ’09 and Brittan Heller LAW ’09, said they were able to identify some of the anonymous authors who allegedly defamed the women on a popular online law school discussion forum, AutoAdmit. The parties have now reached a settlement, but the terms were not disclosed.
“Our clients are very pleased with how the case went,” said attorney Ashok Ramani, whose firm, Keker & Van Nest, represented the two women free of charge.
Iravani declined to comment and Heller could not be reached Thursday night.
In 2005, derogatory and sexually explicit material was posted about Heller and Iravani on the Internet forum AutoAdmit — a site that claims to be “the most prestigious law school discussion board in the world,” and which is read by law students and law firm recruiters.
One of the women said false material posted on this Web site caused her to lose a law internship. The suit also claimed that these forum posts were defamatory and emotionally distressing, and that they infringed on copyright because they included photos of one of the women.
Marc Randazza, a First Amendment attorney who represented a defendant who was dropped from the case early in the process, criticized the plaintiff’s handling of the suit. Randazza said he thinks there was only a flimsy case against some of the defendants named, and that the lawyers sensationalized the case, which had the effect of perpetuating the initial smears.
“In the end the client’s interest were very poorly served if they were intending to get rid of the negative statements [on the AutoAdmit Web site],” Randazza said. “Now there’s even an Encyclopedia Dramatica page for them.”
But David Rosen LAW ’69, one of the women’s attorneys and a professor at the Law School, said unmasking some of the posters who tried to hide behind pseudonyms and holding them accountable accomplished the fundamental goals of the case.
Rosen added that he thinks the case is significant because it highlights the possibility that people who post defamatory material on the Internet will not necessarily be able to remain anonymous.
“That possibility may make some people pause before posting comments that are malicious and completely indefensible,” Rosen said.
Randazza, on the other hand, said he does not think the case has made a statement about Internet accountability. Rather, he said, it has shown people “how much you can get away with on the Internet.”
Randazza described the lawsuit as a “garden variety” defamation case. He added that, although he does not have the exact details of the settlement, he doubts that the sum would be more than a “token” amount, given that many of the defendants were students and likely do not earn high incomes.
In June 2008, Anthony Ciolli, a former AutoAdmit director, filed a lawsuit against Heller, Iravani and their lawyers for abuse of process, libel and false light that he said cost him a job offer at a Boston law firm. The case is active but has not yet reached court.