Juniper Networks Inc. is taking a handful of Light Reading message board users to court, according to recent court filings.
The Sunnyvale, Calif., company filed a lawsuit in the California Superior Court of Santa Clara on December 14 claiming that it had been defamed and libeled by up to 10 persons unknown. These persons, referred to as "Does 1-10" in the court complaint (as in "John Doe," or anonymous), are being accused by Juniper of posting harmful statements about the company and its executives on Light Reading's message boards.
Only two anonymous message board users are identified in the complaint. One goes by the name "infranet_rulz" and the other by "exJuniper981." Juniper admits in the complaint that it doesn't yet know the names of any of the folks it's suing, but it will update its complaint with the courts as it gets details.
Whether or not Juniper can identify the users will come down to the courts, and whether there is enough information to go on. In certain cases, Internet companies have been asked by courts to release information about registered message board users.
Though public companies are often targets of rampant criticism and off-the-wall statements on Internet message boards, Juniper doesn't name any other message board provider in its suit. Indeed, the company appears to have homed in on Light Reading because of its notoriety in telecom circles.
"Light Reading is a popular source of information to individuals employed in the computer networking and security industry in which Juniper operates," the company says in its complaint.
One thing a lawsuit mentioning a media company won't do, experts say, is lessen the amount of attention such message board posts are likely to generate. "It seems sure to backfire if the intention was to silence their critics," says Jeff Ferrell, professor of criminal justice at TCU.
Ferrell also notes that, from outside a company, there's no easy way of knowing all the agendas involved in a decision to sue. Lawsuits of this type "will say as much about the company suing as it does about the message board users," he says.
On the other hand, Mike Lynn, a partner at Lynn Tillotson & Pinker says the threat the companies feel from message board posters is real. "As individuals involved in commercial speech become so powerful that they can move stocks and affect the value of companies, you'll see more of these lawsuits," he says.
Lynn, however, says proving that a company was hurt by message board posts is a tricky thing. His firm defended Visa in a case in which a plaintiff sought $670 million for Internet defamation in which an Internet firm claimed that posts on a Yahoo message board caused its stock to drop.
That company, Zixit, first sued "John Doe" and subpoenaed Yahoo for the user information, which it got. But even after the message poster was revealed, the jury in that case awarded nothing to the plaintiff.
So what messages have Juniper so upset? The complaint cites several messages, most of which allege that Juniper is bribing lawyers and spying on its employees.
The company's complaint cites an April 20 message that stated, "the man at the helm seems to be paying (off) attorneys all over the bay area to cover up the scandal which resulted in the terminations of many at the top including the VP of HR. 1) Board of director 2) CFO 3) GM 4) VP of engineering 5) VP of HR and more."
Another message cited in the complaint came a day later. According to the complaint, it said the "top management" at Juniper bribes attorneys, and that "the man at the top should join his buddy Bernie [Ebers (sic)]... "
Another message singled out in the complaint says: "This is a very unethical company."
Of course, Juniper critics can be found at other Internet message boards that aren't, as yet, mentioned in Juniper's complaint. "Arrogance coupled with timidity is a deadly combination in business. So, in short JNPR's problem is Kriens," said one Yahoo message board post taking aim at Juniper's CEO Scott Kriens.
Juniper's complaint says the still nameless defendents must be stopped because these statements could lead to a "material decline" in Juniper's "profits and could cause permanent harm to Plaintiff's good reputation."
Executives at Light Reading had no comment on the lawsuit.
A Juniper spokeswoman says the company can't comment on pending litigation.
Juniper shares were trading up 0.08 (0.36%) to $22.12 in morning trading on Wednesday.
â€” Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading