If you think Big Brother, in one form or another, isn't watching these days -- even on this very gun board -- check this story out. It comes from the Bend Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, a small community in the central part of the state. Redmond is 18 miles to the north. Redmond man’s Web postings spur lawsuit, free speech argument By Cindy Powers / The Bulletin Published: July 11. 2008 4:00AM PST A Georgia company that makes weapon silencers has sued a Redmond man for $200,000, claiming he damaged the company’s reputation through anonymous comments he made in an online chat room. In a federal suit filed in Eugene, Advanced Armament Corp. argues that Ian Hale Garner, 30, damaged the company’s relationships with its customers by defaming the company. Posting anonymously as “Ian187” in April, Garner wrote that a manufacturer of assault rifles for the United States Special Operations Command “dumped” Advanced Armament because of “accuracy issues and personal conflicts with ownership at AAC,” according to the suit. The statements are protected by free-speech laws that apply to public forums like chat rooms, Garner’s Bend lawyer, Mike McGean, said. Advanced Armament’s Portland lawyer, Jennifer Gates, declined to say how the company found Garner before filing suit in May. “Let’s just say it wasn’t that difficult to track him down,” Gates said. The complaint claims that Garner, commenting on the Web sites AR15.com and SilencerResearch .com, also wrote that the same assault rifle manufacturer was making arrangements to purchase equipment from another silencer company. Gates says those statements are not true, but McGean said Advanced Armament has not come out with any information that contradicts them. McGean has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing it is not supported by law, and that Advanced Armament filed suit as a type of scare tactic to keep Garner and others from talking about the company. “They picked him out because, I think, they just wanted to set an example,” McGean said. “They wanted to shut him up. They wanted to bully him.” McGean has filed the motion under an Oregon statute that allows dismissal of lawsuits filed to inhibit free speech. The statute says any statement made in a place open to the public, or a public forum, that involves an issue of public interest qualifies for dismissal. Advanced Armament’s Gates agreed Thursday that courts have ruled Internet sites are public forums. But Gates said the type of speech Garner engaged in was “commercial defamation,” which is not protected by free-speech laws. “This is not the kind of circumstance where an individual can just go on the Internet and damage a company’s reputation, and expect to be protected by the First Amendment,” Gates said. Though it does not cite any specific harm, the lawsuit says Advanced Armament “faces the threat of permanent damage to its reputation and goodwill, and damage to and loss of its customer relationships.” The suit also says that, after Garner’s statements were published, some of the company’s customers contacted Advanced Armament with concerns about the quality of its products. The company originally filed for a temporary restraining order to stop Garner from repeating the statements online or making more statements that could harm the company’s reputation. Judge Thomas A. Coffin has denied the restraining order and set a hearing on McGean’s motion to dismiss for October. Under Oregon law, a party filing a defamation suit must prove three things. The statement made must have been defamatory, it must have been published in some form and it must have caused damage to the party filing suit. The Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled that “communication is one which would subject a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or tend to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which one is held or to excite adverse, derogatory, or unpleasant feelings or opinions against one,” qualifies as defamation. But truth is an absolute defense in Oregon, and McGean said that is why his client will ultimately prevail. “They haven’t come forward with anything to show that the statements he made were actually false,” McGean said. Advanced Armament has asked a federal court to seal documents it plans to file to show that Garner’s statements were false, but that request has been denied. Gates said the fact that Garner’s postings were untrue is obvious but declined to be more specific. “I think the primary factor is the tone of a defamation claim is that the statements are false, and the evidence of that is abundantly clear,” Gates said. “And since that is a make or break matter for the defendant, I don’t see how he can get around that.” Cindy Powers can be reached at 541-617-7812 or [email protected]. --- Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2008 www.bendbulletin.com Federal law generally dictates that, in addition to proving that the comments made were false, an aggrieved party also must prove that actual malice was intended on the part of the originator of the message. Malice, of course, is a difficult thing to verify, unless there is some sort of smoking gun left behind: emails or letters, phone calls that were taped or otherwise recorded, witnesses who could testify to statements made that the intention of the poster, in this case, was to do the silencer company harm by recklessly telling lies. The article makes no reference to the malice aspect of a suit, so it will be interesting to see what standards are applied when and if the case proceeds to trial in an Oregon courtroom. On the other hand, there's a message for us all here: The next time you log on to The High Road and make a comment about a company or an individual that reflects your considered opinion but that may, in fact, prove to be untruthful, you could find yourself the subject of a costly lawsuit and in need of legal representation. Nice, eh?