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Q: Is posting a user name breaking the law??? ( Answered,   9 Comments )
Question  
Subject: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: helpme99-ga
List Price: $3.00
Posted: 12 Nov 2002 18:00 PST
Expires: 12 Dec 2002 18:00 PST
Question ID: 106516
Please help. I have a newsletter. In this letter I sometimes list what
I call stinker letters. "Rude emails that I receive" A woman sent me
one of these letters with her permission to list it. After the letter
since she sent no name I posted her user name. Now she is threatening
to sue me for a million dollars for posting her email address. I did
not post her email address. I posted a user name that could have ended
in @yahoo.com, @aol.com or @whatever.com. I have received a legal
document in my email. The document was written on word pad and I am
pretty sure that it was written by her being that she is a legal
secretary. This document said that it was sent by an attorney friend
of hers but no name, no phone number or office address..nothing.
Since then I have received similar threats from different aol user
names.
I have no idea what to do. I am a stay at home mom with a web site. I
am not a corporation. She also posted bad feedback about my website
with planet feed back telling them that I posted her email address. Is
posting a user name the same as posting an email address? Have I done
anything wrong since she gave me permission to post her letter? Thank
you...worried.

Request for Question Clarification by justaskscott-ga on 12 Nov 2002 18:16 PST
In what state are you located?  In what state (if you know) is the
woman threatening to sue (or anyone else threatening to sue) located? 
Do you sell subscriptions to your newsletter, or is the newsletter
free for anyone who has a user name?  Perhaps these factors will be
significant to someone who researches your question.

Please note that Researchers for Google Answers cannot provide legal
advice or expert legal interpretation; we can only report the results
of our research.  Accordingly, perhaps you might prefer information
about lawyers in your area who might be able to give you advice?

Clarification of Question by helpme99-ga on 12 Nov 2002 19:18 PST
Thank you. I live in Indiana and she lives in Putnam co. New york. The
newsletter is free for anyone to sign up. I don't sell subscriptions
nor do I buy emails addresses..in the document that she sent me she
states..
 
Plaintiff has no problem with the posting of the letter, since part of
HHOF’s website is called “Stinker letters”.  Plaintiff does object to
the posting of her email address since this is a site which reaches
millions of readers.
 
Still the question is ...is posting a user name illegal??? Is a user
name and an email address the same thing? I know this is a legal
question and I will be contacting an attorney. We don't have much
money and this whole thing is ridiculous to me. She sent a letter for
me to post. I posted it..did not use her real name nor did I post her
email address...So I am confused if posting a user name is illegal.
 
She also states this in the document I received on word pad that I
feel she wrote...it says it was sent by an attorney but  there was no
name signed...address or anything saying who this attorney could be.
 
8. Because of the harrassment, fear of viruses, and nasty emails
coming from complete strangers, plaintiff has been damaged in the sum
of $1,000,000.00 or as the court deems just, proper and appropriate.
 
Now I receive harassing emails almost on a daily basis from who i feel
is the same person threatening to sue me using different aol screen
names...
 
the last one said....in the subject line...READ NOW 
I am sueing you NOV 25th so be prepared... 
 
Thank you...
Answer  
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
Answered By: legolas-ga on 12 Nov 2002 20:24 PST
 
Hi Susannah,

I am not a lawyer, nor is Google Answers intended to give legal advice
on legal matters: however, I can give you at least some information on
this problem.

There seems to be a number of issues that you've raised in your
e-mail. Perhaps your most pressing concern is whether or not the
individual can sue you for publishing her "username". Suing an
individual is allowed in most jurisdictions for any reason whatsoever.
Basically, you can sue anyone for any reason at any time. However, the
continued threat of a lawsuit in order to intimidate or threaten is
called barratry, and a definition is found at the link below.
http://www.dictionary.com/search?q=barratry

As I see, it there are a few issues that you raise apart from the
worry of, "can she sue me?". First is that she gave her permission to
post her letter--and now is threatening suit because you have somehow
violated her privacy (or caused her to look silly, etc..). In order to
sue successfully for damages in a slander/libel type of case, one
would typically have to prove a financial loss.

Secondly, and speaking as someone who does computer networking for a
living, a username is meaningless without the domain name. You can not
send an e-mail to "John Smith" without knowing his username (ex.
jsmith) and the domain (ex. bigisp.com). Therefore, her username alone
is no more identifiable

Clarification of Answer by legolas-ga on 12 Nov 2002 20:25 PST
argh...
I'm sorry.. I made a big mistake when I posted this answer: I hit the
wrong button on my computer and posted the answer instead of deleting
the current text and replacing it with the revised/edited/improved
text which follows. Sorry again... The answer is as follows..

*****

Hi Susannah,

I am not a lawyer, nor is Google Answers intended to give legal advice
on legal matters: however, I can give you at least some information on
this problem.

There seems to be a number of issues that you've raised in your
e-mail. Perhaps your most pressing concern is whether or not the
individual can sue you for publishing her "username". Suing an
individual is allowed in most jurisdictions for any reason whatsoever.
Basically, you can sue anyone for any reason at any time. However, the
continued threat of a lawsuit in order to intimidate or threaten is
called barratry, and a definition is found at the link below.
http://www.dictionary.com/search?q=barratry

As I see it, there are a few issues that you raise apart from the
worry of, "can she sue me?". First is that she gave her permission to
post her letter--and now is threatening suit because you have somehow
violated her privacy (or caused her to look silly, etc..). In order to
sue successfully for damages in a slander/libel type of case, one
would typically have to prove a financial loss. I would seriously
doubt that there could be any financial loss as a result of posting a
non-identifying username only.

Secondly, and speaking as someone who does computer networking for a
living, a username is meaningless without the domain name. You can not
send an e-mail to "John Smith" without knowing his username (ex.
jsmith) and the domain (ex. bigisp.com). Therefore, her username alone
is no more identifiable than her first name. It’s pretty obvious to me
as a layperson that you can not (successfully) sue for someone posting
a work that had explicit permission to be posted along with a
first-name only. Newspapers do it routinely in the Ed/Op/Letters
sections.

However, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is that most (if
not all) lawyers will speak to you on the phone and/or meet with you
for free for the 30 minutes or so and give you the basic information
you need. I would first start by calling a few lawyers, explaining the
situation, and get a few answers—and then determine whether or not you
are sufficiently worried to retain a lawyer to write a letter to this
woman on your behalf.

The other big piece of advice I can give you is to KEEP DETAILED
RECORDS of what she is e-mailing you. Quite frankly, I would suspect
that you might have recourse against her for harassment.

If you’re curious how others have handled similar e-mail issues and
disputes, you may want to read a website at:
http://www.petemoss.com/spamflames/ShifmanIsAMoronSpammer.html

The above website deals with an individual who sent a SPAM message to
another—and then threatens to sue when the SPAMMER is made to look
like silly.


But, again, I’m not a lawyer, so, please don’t take this as legal fact
and/or legal advice.

Search methods used included much from my own personal experience and
knowledge. Search terms included:
threat sue harass
continued threat of suit
moron spam

However, like I said, most of these search terms were to recover pages
that I already knew existed.

Thanks again for using Google Answers! Feel free to ask for
clarification if I didn’t quite answer your question as fully as you
would have liked it answered prior to rating this answer.
Comments  
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: susannah-ga on 12 Nov 2002 18:35 PST
 
Sounds to me like she's just annoyed with you for posting her letter.

If she gave you permission to print it, I don't see what grounds she
has for suing you.

Also, if I was going to sue someone, I wouldn't send them a legal
document via e-mail with no name or contact details of the lawyer who
apparently wrote it; I'd find out their real name and address from the
ISP, and send the legal documents to her home address.

My (non-legal) advice is, call her bluff. If you have an attorney,
send this woman an e-mail saying that all further correspondence
should be directed to your attorney.

Quite frankly, I'd be amazed if you hear anything more from her.
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: helpme99-ga on 12 Nov 2002 19:07 PST
 
Thank you. I live in Indiana and she lives in Putnam co. New york. The
newsletter is free for anyone to sign up. I don't sell subscriptions
nor do I buy emails addresses..in the document that she sent me she
states..

Plaintiff has no problem with the posting of the letter, since part of
HHOF’s website is called “Stinker letters”.  Plaintiff does object to
the posting of her email address since this is a site which reaches
millions of readers.

Still the question is ...is posting a user name illegal??? Is a user
name and an email address the same thing? I know this is a legal
question and I will be contacting an attorney. We don't have much
money and this whole thing is ridiculous to me. She sent a letter for
me to post. I posted it..did not use her real name nor did I post her
email address...So I am confused if posting a user name is illegal.

She also states this in the document I received on word pad that I
feel she wrote...it says it was sent by an attorney but  there was no
name signed...address or anything saying who this attorney could be.

8.	Because of the harrassment, fear of viruses, and nasty emails
coming from complete strangers, plaintiff has been damaged in the sum
of $1,000,000.00 or as the court deems just, proper and appropriate.

Now I receive harassing emails almost on a daily basis from who i feel
is the same person threatening to sue me using different aol screen
names...

the last one said....in the subject line...READ NOW
I am sueing you NOV 25th so be prepared...

Thank you...
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: missy-ga on 12 Nov 2002 21:15 PST
 
helpme99,

I asked an attorney of my acquaintance about your question.  His
opinion?  Posting a user name is not illegal, nor is posting a letter
you had explicit permission to post.

Your harrasser is a fraud.  Legal documents do not arrive via e-mail -
official legal documents are sent via the USPS, on letterhead, with
signatures.

In some jurisdictions, threatening suit in order to harrass or
frighten someone, with no intention of actually filing suit, is a
crime itself.  (If you like, I can check into this in IN for you. 
It's usually a misdemeanor.)

I would suggest the following:

-- Send your harasser one letter, and one only, stating that you would
like her to cease harassing you, and that any further mail from her
will be sent to her ISP's abuse department.  Copy the ISP in on this
letter - such harassment is usually against the TOS of many ISPs. 
Continuing to bother you may well get her Internet service revoked.

-- Contact the abuse department of your harasser's ISP, forwarding
them copies of the e-mail with full headers, and advise them of the
situation. (If you don't know how to get full headers, just ask, and I
will explain for you.)

-- DO NOT respond to her.  AT ALL.  Filter your e-mail so that any
mail she sends to you gets sent to a special folder.  Send copies of
any further harassing e-mail to the abuse department at her ISP.  (If
you don't know how to set up filters for your e-mail, just ask.  I'll
be glad to help.)

For additional help, I highly recommend the Usenet group newsgroup
news.admin.net-abuse.email .  The admins who populate the group are
typically very helpful, and can give you pointers for washing this
harasser right out of your inbox.

Good luck.

--Missy
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: sparky4ca-ga on 12 Nov 2002 22:26 PST
 
Following on a tip from here:
http://www.loverscaughtontape.com/letters/stephen.html
(warning!! -- link has links to adult content!!)

I looked up:
http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/usc2511.htm

Which does indeed say that if you are a party to the communication, or
have the consent to the communication, you can do what you want with
it, as long as it isn't for illegal purposes (like using the info
someone emailed you to assist you in a bank robbery).

Specifically, in:
http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/usc2702.htm
 2702. Disclosure of Contents 
     (b) Exceptions.--A person or entity may divulge the contents of a
communication–
          (3) with the lawful consent of the originator or an
addressee or intended recipient of such communication, or the
subscriber in the case of remote computing service;

Since you were the recipient of the message, assuming you gave
yourself consent to disclose the contents of the message, then you're
cool.

NOTE: The contents of the message would, of course, include the sender
and recipient(s)' usernames and email addresses, as well as sometimes
their ISP information, their IP address, their employer or
organisation, etc. (all contained in the "Header" fields of the
message.)

Don't point her to these statutes, though. Let her figure that out
after she pays a lawyer. For now, just keep all of her messages, as
you may be able to make a case for harrassment, and threats.
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: snapanswer-ga on 12 Nov 2002 22:54 PST
 
I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.  I suppose these are
simply practical observations.

First, if this person actually files a case, my impression is that you
will receive a summons to appear for the trial.  Further, the date of
trial would generally be far enough in the future that you would have
time to seek legal counsel after being notified.  One might consider
waiting until there is notice of a case being filed before spending a
lot of money.

Second, since this person gave you permission, it would appear that
you would have a strong defense, if this ever came to trial.

Third, have you checked your privacy policy on your web site or in
your newsletter?  If you have a privacy policy, you may want to review
it to make sure that your actions are in alignment with your stated
policy.

Fourth, if you ever come into contact with this person, do not
apologize and do not admit wrongdoing, unless a lawyer reviews your
comment.  It is sad that these days, this type of situations cannot be
handled with a simple letter of misunderstanding.  However, it is
clear that this person intends to threaten to use (or actually use)
the legal system to vent her anger.

For future consideration, you may want to look into forming a
corporation or LLC to protect your assets from frivolous lawsuits.
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: helpme99-ga on 12 Nov 2002 23:15 PST
 
could I show any of you the emails that I have have received from her
just to show you how mentally unstable she sounds or would that be
breaking the law somehow?? Thank you from the bottom of my heart for
your advice. I received a certified letter notice today that I am
afraid to pick up from the post office.
What really gets me is her emailing me from her aol account with
different user names. I can't prove this but I feel this is the case.
I would love to show someone all this to get an opinion if I could.
Hugs to all of you,
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: missy-ga on 13 Nov 2002 05:21 PST
 
helpme99,

Showing us the mail might make you feel better, but it's not as
effective as showing it to the abuse department of her ISP.

You say she's e-mailing you from AOL - in which case, you're in luck. 
AOL isn't on my list of favorite ISPs, but their abuse department is
top-notch.  If it's all coming from one person with different screen
names, they'll be able to sort it out and get her off your back.  They
don't mess around.  Just be certain to include full headers so they
can trace the mail effectively.
 

--Missy
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: owain-ga on 13 Nov 2002 05:56 PST
 
If this person is pretending to be an attorney, but isn't, that may be
an offence in itself - and may disbar her from working in a law firm
even as a secretary. Also, if she is sending these emails through her
employer's internet connection, her employer may also be liable.

OWain
Subject: Re: Is posting a user name breaking the law???
From: helpme99-ga on 13 Nov 2002 06:00 PST
 
Missy...you are the best...could you show me how to include the
header? Going to call the aol legal department today. :)

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