A Canadian model has won a landmark case against Google Inc. that could strip away some of the anonymity provided by the Web, making people who post offensive blogs, videos or tweets more responsible for their defamatory statements.
Liskula Cohen, who once graced the covers of such high-fashion magazines as Vogue and Flare, won a court order in New York that has forced Google to unmask the identity of a blogger who posted photos and derogatory comments about her.
At issue were five posts made a year ago, using Google's blogging service, on a now-defunct site named “Skanks of NYC.” Ms. Cohen, 37, claimed the blogger posted photographs and “defamatory statements concerning her appearance, hygiene and sexual conduct that are malicious and untrue.”
Her lawyer argued that she could not bring a defamation suit against the blogger unless the search-engine giant released the person's identity.
The case spotlights a new area of law where legal standards are still being worked out, said Steven Wagner, the New York-based lawyer who represented Ms. Cohen.
“People who behave poorly and defame people on the Internet will face possible repercussions,” he said in a phone interview. “This is one of a series of cases that is establishing a standard. The standard is not set yet.”
Mr. Wagner said one of the most important things in the case is that Madam Justice Joan Madden of the Supreme Court of the State of New York used established law and did not distinguish between the online and offline worlds for judging both defamation and free speech.
Google spokeswoman Tamara Micner would not comment on how Google saw the case affecting its blogging service. But in a prepared statement, she said, “We sympathize with anyone who may be the victim of cyberbullying. We also take great care to respect privacy concerns and will only provide information about a user in response to a subpoena or other court order. If content is found by a court to be defamatory, we will of course remove it immediately.”
Google handed over details about the blogger as ordered this week and Ms. Cohen learned that the person was an acquaintance of hers from the New York social scene.
In an interview with U.S. national television Wednesday, Ms. Cohen said she forgave the blogger and dismissed her as “an irrelevant person in my life.”
Mr. Wagner, however, said his client would definitely proceed with a defamation suit against the blogger.
In court filings, Ms. Cohen said she “suffered damages including personal humiliation, mental anguish and damage to her reputation and standing in the community and in her industry” as a result of the offensive postings.
Ms. Cohen began her professional modelling career at 17 after leaving Toronto and moving to Paris. She has worked for some of the top names in the fashion industry, including Armani and Versace.
She has been the victim of bullying before. In 2007, a man at a Manhattan nightclub cut her face with broken glass, requiring her to get 46 stitches and, later, plastic surgery. Her attacker was sentenced to a year in prison and three years probation.