Informant To Be Kept Anonymous By D.C. Software Industry Trade Group
The identity of an anonymous informant can be kept secret by a Washington-based software industry trade group. This was the decision handed down by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which effectively denied the enforcement of a subpoena asked for by a company which claimed that the John Doe defamed them.
The three-judge appellate panel, upon finding that Solers, a defense contractor based in Arlington, VA, were not able to prove that the speech of the informant harmed the company, a ruling which favored the Software & Information Industry Association was made. The appellate court’s opinion, which was published on January 12, reversed the subpoena order of a trial court.
the informant, through the website of the trade group, accused Solers of using unlicensed computer software. Solers immediately conducted an internal investigation and informed the trade group on the findings of that investigation that the company used only properly licensed software.
The trade group did not take any action beyond informing Solers of the complaint. However, Solers filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court against the informant in 2005 for defamation. The company asked the court to subpoena the trade group to reveal the name of the informant, the original report, as well as any other correspondence relating to the matter. The trade group challenged the subpoena, a dispute that has put on hold the underlying lawsuit for the past six years.
In an email, Scott Bain, the chief litigation counsel for the trade group, wrote, “The appellate decision is terrific vindication of the First Amendment speech rights of whistleblowers, to remain anonymous. It sets a solid First Amendment precedent that will benefit the SIIA, other associations, and publishers here in D.C., and is a persuasive roadmap for other jurisdictions.”