Court: Op Must Reveal Data Sub’s Identity

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Time Warner Cable must reveal the name of an Internet user who appropriated the identity of another man to send out a community e-mail, according to a recent ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The court ruled in a dispute between two Maine residents that when customers sign Time Warner’s own subscription documents, the customers are put on notice that their identities could be released “to comply with criminal or civil legal process.”

The case was triggered by an e-mail that was sent Dec. 24, 2003, to members of the board of directors of the Great Diamond Island Cove Association. The message stated simply, “One and all, thank you all for the continued good work, Ron.” Appended was a cartoon featuring a man, a woman and a dog in front of a sign that said, “Welcome to Paradise.”

According to footnotes in the legal decision, it was the cartoon that apparently angered the supposed sender of the missive, plaintiff Ronald Fitch. Fitch’s wife had been in a recent disfiguring accident, and Fitch felt that the cartoon was drawn to mock her.

He filed a complaint two months later in Cumberland County Superior Court, alleging that the person who actually sent the e-mail misappropriated Fitch’s identity, subjected him to ridicule and disparaged his reputation.

Time Warner refused to release the sender’s information without a court order, citing Section 551 of the Cable Act.

The operator lost in the lower court due to its subscriber contract, and that ruling was affirmed March 18 by the state Supreme Judicial Court.