Columbia Ins. Co. v.

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185 F.R.D. 573 (N.D. Cal. 1999)

The assignee of trademarks "See's," "See's Candies," and "Famous Old Time" brought an action against a candy company and other defendants who, under their Internet pseudonyms or registration identities, registered the Internet domain names "" and "" Id. at 575. Plaintiff alleged trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition and trade practices, and unjust enrichment resulting from the use of the domain names in question. Id. at 576. On assignee's motion for a temporary restraining order, the District Court held that a restraining order was precluded, absent the actual identities of defendants, but that the Plaintiffs could make a request for limited discovery to ascertain identities. Id. at 577.

In permitting limited discovery, the court also sought to protect the right to anonymity. “People are permitted to interact pseudonymously and anonymously with each other so long as those acts are not in violation of the law. This ability to speak one’s mind without the burden of the other party knowing all the facts about one’s identity can foster open communication and robust debate.” Id. at 578.

The court's test for limited discovery required the Plaintiff to (1) identify the missing party with sufficient specificity that the court could determine whether the defendant could be sued in federal court; (2) make a good faith effort to communicate with the anonymous defendants and to provide them with notice of the suit – thus assuring them an opportunity to defend their anonymity; and (3) demonstrate that it had viable claims against such defendants. Id. at 578-79.

The Court found that the Plaintiff met its three-part test, noting that the test would "ensure that this unusual procedure will only be employed in cases where the plaintiff has in good faith exhausted traditional avenues for identifying a civil defendant pre-service, and will prevent use of this method to harass or intimidate." Id.

Chapter 2 - Content And Speech Regulation
Obscenity · Communications Decency Act - Obscene Materials · Children's Online Protection Act (COPA) · Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) · State Attempts At Regulation · First Amendment · Anonymity · International Content Regulation