Complaint Filed Sept 24, 1996
Return to EFGA's HB1630 Page
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES)
UNION OF GEORGIA; THE AIDS )
SURVIVAL PROJECT; THE )
ATLANTA FREETHOUGHT SOCIETY;)
ATLANTA VETERANS ALLIANCE;)
COMMUNITY CONNEXION; )
ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUND-)
ATION; ELECTRONIC FRONTIERS)
GEORGIA; MITCHELL KAYE; )
KENNETH LEEBOW; BRUCE MIRKEN;)
BONNIE NADRI; JOSH RILEY; )
JOHN TROYER; and )
JONATHAN WALLACE, ) CIVIL ACTION
) FILE NO. _______
ZELL MILLER, in his official )
capacity as Governor of the )
State of Georgia; and )
MICHAEL BOWERS, in his )
official capacity as Attorney )
of the State of Georgia, )
The Plaintiffs state the following complaint for injunctive and declaratory
NATURE OF THE CASE
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
- This is an action for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the
constitutionality of Act No. 1029, Ga. Laws 1996, p. 1505, codified at O.C.G.A.
16-9-93.1 (hereinafter, the "Act").
- The Act unconstitutionally prohibits persons and organizations who
communicate and retrieve information through computer (or "online")
networks from using pseudonyms or communicating anonymously over computer
networks. The Act also unconstitutionally restricts the "use" of
trade names, logos and certain other graphics in communications over computer
- This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331 & 2201. This
action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C.
- Plaintiff AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU) OF GEORGIA is a nonpartisan
organization of nearly 3000 members dedicated to defending the principles of
liberty and equality embodied in the Bill of Rights. The ACLU is incorporated
in the State of Georgia and has its principal place of business in Atlanta. The
ACLU of Georgia sues on its own behalf, on behalf of others who use its online
computer communications, and on behalf of its members who use online
- Plaintiff THE AIDS SURVIVAL PROJECT is a non-profit membership organization
offering current and accurate information about AIDS to over 3000 people. The
AIDS Survival Project was incorporated in the State of Georgia in 1988. It sues
on its own behalf, on behalf of others who would use its online computer
communications, and on behalf of its members who use online communications.
- Plaintiff THE ATLANTA FREETHOUGHT SOCIETY is a non- profit educational
organization dedicated to defending and promoting the separation of church and
state, educating the public on the benefits of living life without religion,
and serving as a social and intellectual community for other freethinkers. The
Atlanta Freethought Society was incorporated in the State of Georgia in 1994
and currently serves 165 members and a substantial number of non-member
subscribers to its monthly newsletter. It sues on its own behalf, on behalf of
others who would use its online computer communications, and on behalf of its
members who use online communications.
- Plaintiff ATLANTA VETERANS ALLIANCE (AVA) is an organization serving the
needs of veterans in the State of Georgia who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or
transgendered. AVA, which resides in Atlanta, Georgia, serves 30 active members
and maintains a database of 150 others who share common goals. It sues on its
own behalf, on behalf of others who would use its online computer
communications, and on behalf of its members who use online communications.
- Plaintiff COMMUNITY CONNEXION is an Internet Service Provider based in
Berkeley, California. Founded in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, Community
ConneXion specializes in assisting online users in preserving their privacy on
the Internet. Community ConneXion sues on its own behalf and on behalf of its
500 subscribers and others who use its services.
- Plaintiff ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION (EFF) is a nationwide, nonpartisan
nonprofit civil liberties organization of approximately 3500 individual members
that is committed to defending civil liberties in the world of computer
communications, to developing a sound legal framework for that world, and to
educating government, journalists, and the general public about the legal and
social issues raised by this new medium. The EFF is incorporated in the State
of California and has its principal place of business in San Francisco. EFF
sues on its own behalf, on behalf of others who use its online computer
communications, and on behalf of its members who use online communications.
- Plaintiff ELECTRONIC FRONTIERS GEORGIA (EFGA) is a Georgia-based
nonpartisan nonprofit civil liberties organization formed to fight for freedom,
privacy and access to the online world in Georgia. Formed in 1995, EFGA is
incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under Georgia law and currently has
more than 250 members. EFGA sues on its own behalf, on behalf of others who use
its online computer communications, and on behalf of its members who use online
- Plaintiff MITCHELL KAYE currently serves as a Representative to the Georgia
House of Representatives, representing the 37th District, in Cobb County
Georgia. He publishes a web site on the Internet that provides extensive
information to the general public on the activities of the Georgia House of
Representatives, but is not officially affiliated with the Georgia House of
Representatives. Rep. Kaye also sometimes communicates online under the
pseudonym "Publius." He sues on his own behalf and on behalf of those
who use the web site.
- Plaintiff KENNETH LEEBOW is President and owner of Professional Solutions,
Inc., a Georgia corporation with its principal place of business in Marietta,
Georgia. He publishes a web site and online newsletter with over 13,000
subscribers under the pseudonym "Norman, or "Norman, The Ultimate
Business Surfer." He sues on his own behalf and on behalf of those who use
the newsletter and web site.
- Plaintiff BRUCE MIRKEN is a resident of San Francisco, California. He is a
journalist who writes frequently about gay issues, and frequently obtains
information for his articles from communications and interviews with persons
online who use pseudonyms to protect their privacy. He sues on his own behalf
and on behalf of his anonymous sources.
- Plaintiff BONNIE NADRI is a resident of DeKalb County, Georgia. She
publishes two web sites on the Internet, and participates in online
communications on local computer Bulletin Board Systems using a pseudonym or
"handle" to protect her privacy. She sues on her own behalf and on
behalf of those who access her web pages.
- Plaintiff JOSH RILEY is a resident of Canton, Georgia. He publishes several
web sites on the Internet, including one that provides a forum for web
publication by churches and ministries in the Atlanta area and a second that
publishes a variety of historical information relating to the Negro Baseball
Leagues. In addition, he uses screen names (i.e., pseudonyms) to protect his
privacy while communicating on America Online and on Prodigy. He sues on his
own behalf and on behalf of those who use his web sites.
- Plaintiff JOHN TROYER is a resident of San Francisco, California. He
maintains a web site known as the Safer Sex Page and moderates an online
discussion group known as the Safer Sex Forum. He sues on his own behalf and on
behalf of those who use the web site and online forum.
- Plaintiff JONATHAN WALLACE is a resident of New York City, New York. He
uses a pseudonym, Jonathan Blumen, to communicate and exchange information on
the Internet, and to publish a newsletter on the World Wide Web called
"The Ethical Spectacle," which expresses controversial political and
ethical views and sometimes publishes anonymous works. He sues on his own
behalf and on behalf of those who use his web site.
- Defendant Zell Miller is sued in his official capacity as Governor of the
State of Georgia. He is charged under the Georgia Constitution and by statute
with supervision of the execution of the laws of the State.
- Defendant Michael Bowers is sued in his official capacity as Attorney
General of the State of Georgia. He is charged under the Georgia Constitution
and by statute with enforcement of the criminal laws of the State when required
by the Governor.
ENACTMENT OF ACT 1029
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person, any organization, or any
representative of any organization knowingly to transmit any data through a
computer network or over the transmission facilities or through the network
facilities of a local telephone network for the purpose of setting up,
maintaining, operating, or exchanging data with an electronic mailbox, home
page, or any other electronic information storage bank or point of access to
electronic information if such data uses any individual name, trade name,
registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol to
falsely identify the person, organization, or representative transmitting such
data or which would falsely state or imply that such person, organization, or
representative has permission or is legally authorized to use such trade name,
registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol for
such purpose when such permission or authorization has not been obtained;
provided, however, that no telecommunications company or Internet access
provider shall violate this Code section solely as a result of carrying or
transmitting such data for its customers.
- The Act was passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by
the Governor in April 1996. It became effective July 1, 1996.
- Section 1 of the Act amends the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act,
Article 6, Chapter 9, Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A.
16-9-90 to 16-9-94), by adding new Code section O.C.G.A. 16-9-93.1, which
provides as follows:
(b) Any person violating subsection (a) of this Code section shall be guilty of
Nothing contained [in the Act] shall prohibit a member of the General Assembly
from using the state seal or the Georgia flag which contains the state seal on
a home page that is clearly identified with the name of the member as the home
page of that member.
- In addition, Section 2 of the Act, which was not codified into the Official
Code, provides that
THE NATURE OF THE COMPUTER NETWORKS
- O.C.G.A. 16-9-94(4) authorizes venue for the offense created by the Act,
inter alia, "[i]n any county from which, to which, or through which
any use of a computer or computer network was made, whether by wires,
electromagnetic waves, microwaves, or any other means of communication."
- Before passing the Act, the General Assembly made no findings as to the
effect of the Act on the free flow of information over computer networks, or on
the availability of alternative, less restrictive means of accomplishing the
goals of the Act.
AFFECTED BY THE ACT
The Global Internet
- The definition of "computer networks" applicable to the Act is
set forth in O.C.G.A. 16-9-92(2) and includes any set of remotely connected
computers over which communications can take place. At a minimum, the content
of communications over all of the following types of computer networks are
affected by the Act.
Commercial Online Services
- The largest computer network affected by the Act is the Internet, which is
the largest online network in the world. It links a large number of smaller
networks set up by universities, industry, nonprofit organizations,
governments, and individuals. While estimates can only be approximations due to
rapid growth, the Internet is believed to connect at least 59,000 computer
networks, 2.2 million computers, 159 countries, and 40 million users. By some
estimates, there will be as many as 200 million Internet users by the year
- No one owns the Internet. It is a decentralized global medium of
communication and expression in which governments, universities, institutions,
corporations, and millions of ordinary people can communicate with each other,
express opinions, share ideas, educate themselves, and seek, exchange or
publish information on every imaginable topic either to specific recipients or
to the entire world almost instantaneously and at minimal cost.
- Virtually anyone can now use the Internet to communicate with other online
users. Anyone with a personal computer, modem, and telephone line can obtain
access to the Internet through an Internet Service Provider ("ISP"),
usually for a fee. Many businesses, universities, and other institutions have
computer networks that are directly connected to the Internet, and give their
employees, faculty, students, etc., free or low-cost Internet access accounts.
For those without a computer or access through work or school, many communities
have established "free-nets" or community networks to provide their
citizens with a local link to the Internet. Many public libraries offer similar
access. There are also a growing number of "cyberspace cafes," coffee
shops where customers, for a small hourly fee, can use computers provided by
the shop to access the Internet.
- The Internet is designed to reroute communications rapidly through the
network if one or more individual links in the network are unavailable. This
means that any data sent over the Internet can travel any number of different
paths to get from its origin to its destination. Persons transmitting
information over this international computer network have no control over the
route their messages take. Any data transmitted over the Internet could
potentially travel through the wires or airspace of Georgia.
- There are hundreds of thousands of Internet users in the State of Georgia,
all of whom can communicate with or receive information from any other user on
the network anywhere in the world.
Local Bulletin Board Services ("BBSs")
- In addition to the global Internet, communications over the large national
computer networks known as "commercial online services," including
Prodigy, America Online and CompuServe, are also restricted by the Act.
- These services enable their customers to communicate with other customers,
access the Internet, and access other proprietary information and services
available only to subscribers. There are more than twelve million subscribers
to major commercial online services in the United States and overseas; each of
these services have customers in Georgia, who use the services to communicate
with others throughout the United States (and in some cases, the world).
THE NATURE OF COMMUNICATION OVER COMPUTER NETWORKS
- The Act also restricts expression on thousands of local dial-in computer
services known as Bulletin Board Systems, or "BBSs." With a
relatively small investment, anyone with a phone line, computer, modem, and
proper software, can establish a BBS to allow friends, neighbors, customers, or
members of the general public to dial in and communicate with each other on
topics of common interest. There are several hundred such BBSs in Georgia,
operated by individuals, nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, and as
businesses. In addition, there are thousands of additional local BBSs in other
states, which can be reached from Georgia over long distance telephone lines or
through a network of BBS systems known as FIDONET, which allows BBS subscribers
to communicate with subscribers to other BBSs in Georgia and throughout the
AFFECTED BY THE ACT
- Computer users communicate with each other over the computer networks
described above in many different ways. The content of all of the following
types of communications are restricted by the broad language of the Act.
Discussion & Chat Groups
- E-mail is the basic method of communication over computer networks. It
allows one user to send a message to any other user or users on the network.
- Because mass mailings via e-mail are relatively easy and inexpensive,
e-mail enables any user to publish and distribute information on any topic
simply by compiling a mailing list of online users and sending the newsletter
to everyone. For example, plaintiff Ken Leebow distributes a weekly Internet
newsletter under the pen name "Norman" to more than 13,000
subscribers around the world.
Publication and Access to Information: The World Wide Web
- One of the most popular forms of communication over computer networks are
"discussion groups." Discussion groups allow users of computer
networks to post messages onto a public computerized bulletin board or to an
automated electronic mailing list of subscribers, and to read and respond to
messages posted by others participating in the discussion group. Discussion
groups have been organized on many different computer networks and on virtually
every topic imaginable. Discussion groups can be formed by individuals,
institutions or organizations, or by particular computer networks.
- "USENET" newsgroups are a very popular set of bulletin board
discussion groups available on the Internet and other networks. There are
currently USENET newsgroups on more than 15,000 different subjects, and over
100,000 new messages are posted to these groups each day. In addition, there
are many thousands more Internet discussion groups organized through automated
mailing lists to subscribers. There are still thousands more organized on the
various commercial online services and on local BBSs. All or virtually all of
these discussion groups are accessible by computer users in Georgia.
- Similar to discussion groups are "chat groups," which allow
users to engage in simultaneous conversations with each other by typing
messages and reading the messages typed by others participating in the
"chat." Chat groups occur over the Internet, commercial online
services, and local BBSs. These groups are often set up by particular
organizations or online services, but any individual user can form an online
"chat." Some chat groups are organized for social entertainment, and
others are organized by a particular sponsor on a particular topics to provide
a specific forum for discussion of issues or ideas.
- Online discussion and chat groups create an entirely new public forum --
analogous to the village green -- in which individuals can associate and
communicate with others who have common interests, and engage in discussion or
debate on every imaginable topic.
The Importance of Links on the World Wide Web:
- A third major category of communication on computer networks involves the
publication and retrieval of information. Computer networks, and especially the
Internet, give individuals of ordinary means a remarkable new power to publish
ideas, opinions, poetry, stories, images, video, and sound to the world. This
information can then be retrieved by anyone in the world who has access to the
- The "World Wide Web" (Web) is the most popular way to publish and
retrieve information on the Internet. Anyone with access to the Internet and
proper software can publish "web pages," which may contain text,
images, sound and even video. The Web is comprised of millions of separate
"web sites" that provide content provided by a particular person or
organization, and each web site may include one or more different web pages
published by the author of the site. Any Internet user anywhere in the world
can view the web pages published by others, read their text, look at their
images and video, and listen to their sounds.
- The Web was created to serve as the platform for a global, online store of
knowledge, containing information from a diversity of sources, and accessible
to Internet users around the world. Though information on the Web is contained
in individual computers, the fact that each of these computers is connected to
the Internet through Web protocols allows all of the information to become part
of a single body of knowledge. It is currently the most advanced information
system on the Internet.
WHY PEOPLE COMMUNICATE ANONYMOUSLY IN CYBERSPACE
- The Web also provide web authors with the unique ability to
"link" different web pages on the Internet together. These
"links" can be text or images in a web page that, when selected by
the reader, automatically transfer the reader to a different location on the
Internet. For example, a particular link might transport the reader to a
different part of the same web page or to an entirely different web page stored
in an entirely different computer anywhere in the world.
- The author of any web page can create a "link" that points to any
other web page published on the Internet, without having to contact the creator
of the document. Many of the plaintiffs publish such links in their web pages.
Plaintiffs Ken Leebow and Bonnie Nadri, for example, provide hundreds of
different links to other web pages on the Internet that they find to be helpful
or of interest. Plaintiff Mitchell Kaye provides extensive links to
politics-related and similar web sites. Plaintiff Josh Riley provides links to
religious web sites, baseball-related sites, and sites with local information
that will assist new residents moving to the Atlanta area. Plaintiffs ACLU of
Georgia, EFF, and EFGA all provide extensive links to web sites with
information on online privacy, civil liberties, online access, and similar
- Many pages on the Web are published by corporations or organizations that
operate under trade names. Links to those web pages are routinely identified by
the trade name of the organization or some other logo or trademark that readily
identifies the company or organization to whose web page the link is directed.
For example, plaintiff EFGA includes in its web page a news advisory and
commentary relating to a recent tariff increase for ISDN data
telecommunications lines proposed by BellSouth. EFGA's news advisory encourages
readers to express their views to BellSouth regarding the proposed increase,
and reproduces a copy of the BellSouth logo which, when clicked by the user,
will transport the user to BellSouth's own web page for providing customer
feedback to the company via e-mail.
- "Search engines" and "directories" on the Web are
services that collect and organize millions of different links to web pages.
"Search engines," such as Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Webcrawler, allow
users to search the entire World Wide Web for particular words or phrases. The
search engine then provides a list of web pages that contain the search term,
and allows the user to "link" to the web page of their choice.
"Directories" are large databases of web sites arranged according to
subject matter, similar to an online card catalog. Directories provide
"links" to relevant web sites on particular subjects.
- Without these search engines and directories, it would be much more
difficult for Internet users to locate and retrieve information of interest on
the Web. Thus, these search engines and directories provide an essential
service to all Internet users. They routinely provide many "links" to
web pages using the trade names or logos of the companies or organizations to
whom they are linking.
- The critical linking feature is the defining characteristic of the Web. The
Web is comprised of all web pages in the world, stored in millions of different
computers around the globe. The Web is the interlocking system of links created
by individual users in each individual page. Linking is encouraged on
the Web, because it ties different web pages on related topics together into a
coherent system, even though the individual web pages themselves might be
stored in different computers in different parts of the world.
- "Cyberspace" refers to the combination of all of the online
communications systems described above. Because all of the communications
described above occur over "computer networks," they are all subject
to the Act.
HOW INDIVIDUALS COMMUNICATE ANONYMOUSLY IN CYBERSPACE
- For many of the same reasons that people have historically communicated
anonymously through other media like print and the telephone, online users
frequently communicate anonymously or pseudonymously in cyberspace.
- Anonymity allows online users to voice unpopular ideas without fear of
retaliation. Citizens can engage in political speech without identifying
themselves to the party in power. Victims of crime or disease can request help
and advice without stigma.
- Anonymity also eliminates the potential for discrimination and harassment
according to factors like gender and ethnicity. Many women communicate online
under gender-neutral pseudonyms to avoid harassing e-mail. This practice is
similar to women who list their phone number under their first initial in order
to avoid harassing calls. Similarly, online users may wish to use pseudonyms in
order to avoid discrimination or harassment based on names associated with
particular ethnic groups.
- Anonymity also helps online users maintain their privacy. People
communicating about unpopular or sensitive issues might suffer unwanted
invasions of privacy, both online and offline, if others had access to their
real identity. Anonymity also allows famous people to communicate online as
"average people," without fear of a privacy invasion.
- In some cases, anonymity is a necessary security measure. The personal
safety of human rights dissidents, domestic abuse victims, and whistle-blowers
would be compromised if they could not communicate anonymously.
- Anonymity also assists users in preventing the collection and potential
misuse by third parties of personal information about them. Online
communications can be easily tracked, downloaded and stored by anyone;
anonymity can prevent unauthorized third parties from tying that information to
a particular person.
- In addition to the advantages of speaking anonymously in cyberspace, online
users have many reasons for wanting to
access online information anonymously. Many users would be inhibited
from accessing controversial, embarrassing, or sensitive information if they
first had to reveal their identity. Political information, safe sex
information, and information on stigmatizing diseases are just a few examples
of content that some users might wish to access anonymously. In addition,
because most web sites collect information about visitors, many online users
fear that using their real identity would threaten their privacy whenever they
access the Web.
Online Communications Using Pseudonyms or "Screen
- As a general rule, communications over computer networks typically include
identifying information, such as the sender's return address and message
routing information. This default identification of the speaker differentiates
online communication from communication by print and telephone.
- Online technology, however, provides users with a variety of ways to
communicate over computer networks without revealing their identity.
Anonymous Internet Access Accounts:
- Many Internet Service Providers, commercial online services, and local
BBSs, allow users to set up pseudonymous accounts, permitting the user to
communicate online using a "screen name," "user name," or
"handle" that is a pen name rather than the real name of the account
holder. When a user sends e-mail, publishes newsletters, or participates in
discussions or chat groups using this screen name, the message sent is
identified as coming from the screen name adopted by the sender. Many service
providers allow their users to set up multiple "screen names" or
"user names." This feature allows users to use different names for
different purposes. For example, a user might use her real name as a
"screen name" when communicating by e-mail with someone they know
personally, but use a pen name as a "screen name" when communicating
- Pseudonymous accounts allow users to have a consistent identity in
cyberspace without having to reveal their true identity to the people with whom
they are communicating.
Anonymous and Pseudonymous Remailers:
- The use of "screen names" alone, however, does not provide
complete anonymity to the user, because the user's service provider knows the
true identity of the subscriber. To provide additional privacy, some Internet
Service Providers and local BBS operators offer anonymous accounts. That is,
they do not require any identification in order to set up an account for
communicating over the network. These accounts provide additional privacy and
security to the user because even the service provider has no way to identify
the true identity of the user.
Online Publishing Under Pseudonyms or Anonymously
- In addition to the use of screen names or anonymous access accounts, there
are special services that allow online users who normally communicate online
under their real name to send particular messages anonymously or pseudonymously
over the Internet. These services are known as pseudonymous and anonymous
remailers, and are software programs that run on computers connected to the
Internet. When an online user sends e-mail to the remailer address, the
remailer strips the identifying information from the message and then forwards
the mail to its destination. The recipient receives mail that has no evidence
indicating its point of origin. Remailers can be used to send individual
e-mail, and to post messages to mailing lists or USENET newsgroups.
- "Pseudonymous remailers" are remailers that set up accounts for
repeated use. The operator of a pseudonymous remailer knows the account
holder's real e-mail address, but provides the account holder with a secret
numeric identifier that is used whenever the account holder sends a message
through the remailer. Other anonymous users, each with their own secret numeric
identifier, can then reply to the anonymous message. This allows users to
create a double-blind situation where two or more users can have an ongoing
exchange without ever knowing the identity of the other users. Plaintiff
Community ConneXion maintains a popular pseudonymous remailer known as the
"alpha.c2.org" remailer, which any Internet user can use free of
- In contrast, anonymous remailers are primarily for one- time usage,
do not provide a means to reply to the sender through a secret identifier, and
thus provide additional anonymity and privacy. Any Internet user can use an
anonymous remailer simply by sending a particular e-mail message to the
remailer, which will forward the message anonymously to its final destination.
- Currently, there are over twenty public remailers that any online user may
use free of charge. Plaintiff Community ConneXion provides a service that
allows users to use the World Wide Web to send messages through a series of
anonymous remailers available on the Internet. Plaintiff EFF provides links to
some of these remailers from its web site on the Internet, and plaintiff EFGA
has current plans to establish its own anonymous remailer at its Internet
domain in Georgia.
- To prevent abuse of such remailers, there are programs available to the
public, known as "kill files" and "bozo filters," that
provide online users with the means to screen out anonymous messages if they
desire. These programs reduce the likelihood of harm from misuse of anonymous
Anonymous Access Services:
- Many publishers using the World Wide Web and online mailing lists choose to
publish under pen names. For example, plaintiffs Jonathan Wallace and Ken
Leebow both publish Internet web pages and newsletters using such pen names.
Similarly, plaintiff Mitchell Kaye occasionally uses the pseudonym
"Publius" in connection with a web page that he publishes providing
information on the activities of the Georgia House of Representatives.
- For additional anonymity, as in the case of e-mail accounts discussed
above, some Internet Service Providers also allow persons and organizations to
set up and maintain web pages anonymously. For example, prior to the passage of
the Act at issue in this case, plaintiff The Atlanta Freethought Society had
planned to open an anonymous account to publish that Society's web page due to
concern about threats and harassment that might arise as a result of the
controversial nature of the issues the Society planned to discuss on its page.
Plaintiff Community ConneXion also provides subscribers with the option to
publish anonymous web pages.
THE RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED BY THE ACT UPON EXPRESSION
- Conversely, many online users seek to access information anonymously
over the Internet. As a general rule, however, obtaining information
anonymously over the Internet is difficult because every time an online user
visits a web site, she leaves a digital "calling card" that reveals
the address of the computer from which she is linked to the Internet, the
address of the web site she last visited, the kind of computer she is using,
and other details. Many web sites keep logs with this information on all of the
visitors that access their site.
- Many online users fear that their privacy will be invaded if data collected
by web sites is misused, particularly where the user has no knowledge of the
amount of data being collected by various web site operators.
- To assist online users in protecting their privacy, there are now services
that allow online users to access information anonymously on the Internet.
These services, called "anonymizers," serve as a middleman between
the user and the particular pages he wants to retrieve. The Anonymizer strips
all references to the user's e-mail address, computer type, and previous page
visited before downloading the web page to the user. If the user follows a link
from a page accessed through the Anonymizer, the linked page is also accessed
anonymously. Plaintiff Community ConneXion provides an Anonymizer service to
the online public free of charge.
OVER COMPUTER NETWORKS
Prohibition of Communications Using Names
- The Act imposes two content-based restrictions affecting all of these
various types of communications over computer networks.
That "Falsely Identify" The User
transmit any data through a computer network . . . for the purpose of setting
up, maintaining, operating, or exchanging data with an electronic mailbox, home
page, or any other electronic information storage bank or point of access to
electronic information if such data uses any individual name . . . to
falsely identify the person . . . .
- First, the Act makes it unlawful knowingly to:
Prohibition of Communications "Using" Trade Names,
- The Act does not define the phrase "to falsely identify."
- The Act contains no requirement that the user of a name that "falsely
identifies" him have any intent to deceive or defraud by its use.
- The Act contains no requirement that there be any actual deception nor
even any likelihood of deception as a result of the use of the name that
"falsely identifies" its user.
- The statutory language does not limit its reach to the willful use of
"false" names for the purpose of deceptively posing as some specific
other person or organization, but would also prohibit the use of pseudonyms and
anonymous services that "falsely identify" their users even though
they are used simply to communicate anonymously.
Logos & Other Images Without Permission
transmit any data through a computer network . . . for the purpose of setting
up, maintaining, operating, or exchanging data with an electronic mailbox, home
page, or any other electronic information storage bank or point of access to
electronic information if such data uses any . . . trade name,
registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol .
. . which would falsely state or imply that such person . . . has
permission or is legally authorized to use such trade name, registered
trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol for such purpose
when such permission or authorization has not been obtained . . . .
- In addition to prohibiting the use of names which "falsely
identify" their user, the Act makes it unlawful knowingly to:
THE RELATIONSHIP OF PLAINTIFFS TO THE ACT
- There is no definition of the phrases "uses" or "to
use" in the Act.
- In contrast to the protections for intellectual property provided under
other federal and Georgia trademark and trade name statutes, there is no
requirement in the Act that the prohibited "use" create any
likelihood of confusion as to the identity of the user, nor that the use in any
way dilute the value of a famous and distinctive mark, nor that the
"use" be in the context of a commercial transaction for the sale of
goods and services.
- In contrast to the protections provided under other federal and Georgia
trademark and trade name statutes which impose criminal penalties, there is no
requirement in the Act that the user have any intent to deceive the public by
- The Act provides no guidance for determining whether a web page that
provides a link to a page containing a registered trade name or logo is a
prohibited "use" of the logo under the Act.
- The Act never defines the phrase "falsely implies." It provides
no guidance for determining whether any particular "use" of a trade
name or logo in a web page would "falsely imply" that the user had
obtained prior permission to link to the owner's web page or to use the trade
name or logo in some other way.
American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLU/GA)
- All of the plaintiffs are individuals or organizations who communicate (or
whose members communicate) over computer networks, and who are fearful that the
Act has made their protected expression a crime.
AIDS Survival Project
- As part of the ACLU of Georgia's efforts to educate the public about civil
rights and liberties, it has established an online site on the World Wide Web,
at http://www.mindspring.com/~acluga. The site provides electronic copies of
ACLU publications, reports, court briefs and decisions, news releases,
announcements and other materials related to the ACLU's legal, legislative,
educational and advocacy work.
- The ACLU of Georgia has been involved with a number of sensitive issues and
topics such as censorship, separation of Church and State, reproductive
freedom, AIDS issues, Gay and Lesbian rights and privacy issues. Because of the
sensitive nature of these issues, many of which are addressed on the web site,
the ACLU believes that online users should be able to access its web site
anonymously or using a pseudonym. Those who currently access the ACLU web site
anonymously will likely refrain from doing so in the future because such
anonymous correspondence on the Internet is made a crime under Georgia law.
- In addition, persons using pseudonyms often send comments, questions or
opinions by e-mail to the ACLU of Georgia. For example, persons have sent very
sensitive questions, comments and opinions about such issues as the death
penalty, separation of Church and State and gay/lesbian rights. The ACLU
believes that these persons should be allowed to use pseudonyms to protect
- The ACLU of Georgia's site provides a collection of links to other related
Internet sites including the National ACLU and other state affiliates of the
ACLU, various sites for the United States and Georgia government, online legal
libraries, related civil liberties and electronic freedom organizations, and
related mailing lists and USENET groups. Among the sites are Emory Law School,
Cornell Law School, the Congressional Record, Electronic Privacy Information
Center, Voters' Telecommunications Watch, Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibility, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Georgia Constitution and
the official Georgia State Government site (http://www.state.ga.us). The ACLU
did not obtain permission before linking to these sites, and it would be
practically impossible to obtain such permission for each link.
- In addition, many of the members of the ACLU of Georgia use online
communications to receive and transmit information over the World Wide Web,
online mailing lists, discussion groups, chat rooms, computer bulletin boards,
and private e-mail. Many of these members use handles or pseudonyms to protect
their privacy when communicating over computer networks.
Atlanta Freethought Society
- Members of the AIDS Survival Project use the Internet extensively to gain
and exchange information about AIDS and its treatment. Many web sites on the
Internet, such as those of the Center for Disease Control and the AIDS
Information Network, provide its members with the most up to date information
about AIDS and safer sex.
- Members of the AIDS Survival Project also engage in chat room discussions
on the Internet that serve as support groups for those dealing with
AIDS-related issues. These chat rooms are often the only direct emotional
support available to rural members with AIDS or HIV.
- In spite of laws meant to protect the rights of those with HIV and AIDS,
including one making HIV status confidential, people with AIDS continue to lose
jobs, insurance, and even their homes as a result of social prejudices. To
avoid discrimination and social stigma, many members of the AIDS Survival
Project use pseudonyms when communicating or accessing information over the
- To better enable its members to take advantage of the information available
on the Internet, the AIDS Survival Project is currently developing a web page
to serve as a conduit by providing links to other organizations' web pages. As
a small non-profit, it would be impossible to provide useful information to its
members without using links to other related web pages.
- As a result of the Act's prohibition against using trade names, trademarks,
logos, or legal or official seals without permission, the AIDS survival project
feels its web page, composed of links to other organizations' web pages, may be
in conflict with the law. Thus, the Act has caused the AIDS Survival Project to
curtail its efforts to create its web page.
Atlanta Veterans Alliance (AVA)
- Members of the Atlanta Freethought Society frequently use Internet mailing
lists and USENET newsgroups that disseminate information and encourage the
exchange of views about freethinking issues, including the separation of church
- Due to the controversy and threats which are sometimes generated by
discussions that are critical of the role of religion in society, some members
of the Atlanta Freethought Society participate in Internet discussion groups
anonymously. The Act will discourage members from engaging in discussion groups
available on the Internet and will leave them vulnerable to threats and
- The Atlanta Freethought Society is in the process of developing its own web
page. The purpose of the web page will be to provide information about the
purpose of the Atlanta Freethought Society, excerpts from its newsletter,
e-mail addresses to contact members, and press releases relating to the Atlanta
Freethought Society's activity.
- Due to concern about threats and harassment, the President of the Atlanta
Freethought Society had originally intended to open an account for its web page
using a pseudonym. However, since the passage of the Act, she fears that she
may be in conflict with the law if the web page is opened under any name other
than her own. Thus, the Atlanta Freethought Society's plans to create a web
page are currently uncertain.
- The Atlanta Veterans Alliance serves the needs of veterans in the State of
Georgia who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. All of its members
take an oath of confidentiality to prevent its members sexual identity from
being revealed to military authorities.
- Board members of the Atlanta Veterans Alliance make extensive use of the
Internet to stay in contact with board members from other organizations which
share common goals. Members also use e-mail and chat rooms as a low-cost forum
in which to discuss issues such as AIDS and the status of gays and lesbians in
the military with others in Georgia and the nation.
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, and persons with AIDS,
continue to suffer economic loss and personal harassment as a result of social
prejudice. In addition, disclosure of the identity of AVA members who remain in
active military service would likely end their military careers. For these
reasons, AVA members frequently use pseudonyms to communicate over the
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
- Community ConneXion is an Internet Service Provider that specializes in
providing the highest level of privacy to online users. Although it does not
monitor or keep records regarding the kinds of communication for which its
services are used, Community ConneXion believes that its services are used for
a variety of reasons, including protection from persecution for controversial
lifestyles, protection from privacy-invasive employers, protection from
oppressive governments in other countries, and protection from marketing
- Community ConneXion provides its subscribers with the full range of online
services and access to the Internet. Subscribers may set up pseudonymous and
anonymous general accounts.
- In addition to pseudonymous and anonymous accounts, Community ConneXion
also offers privacy services that are available to the entire community of
Internet users free of charge. For example, Community ConneXion makes available
a pseudonymous remailer that allows Internet users who normally communicate
under their real name to send particular messages pseudonymously. Community
ConneXion also operates a service that allows any Internet user to use the
World Wide Web to send messages through a series of anonymous remailers (known
as the "remailer network") available on the Internet. In addition, to
assist online users in protecting their privacy, Community ConneXion now
provides a service known as the "Anonymizer" that allows any online
user to access information anonymously on the Internet.
- Community ConneXion does not know whether its operation of the pseudonymous
remailer, the web access to the remailer network, or the Anonymizer to
communicate and access information on the Internet violates the Act because it
constitutes "transmit[ting] data through a computer network . . . if such
data uses any individual name . . . to falsely identify the person."
Because the meaning of the Act is unclear, Community ConneXion will be forced
to choose between shutting down these services or risking prosecution under the
- Similarly, users of the pseudonymous remailer, the remailer network, and
the Anonymizer do not know whether use of these services violates the Act
because it constitutes "transmit[ting] data through a computer network . .
. if such data uses any individual name . . . to falsely identify the
person." Because the meaning of the Act is unclear, they are forced to
choose between abandoning their pseudonymity or risking prosecution under the
- The Community ConneXion web site currently provides links to other relevant
online material. These links provide valuable references to information that
may be of interest to readers of its web site. For instance, the site links to
the web sites of Netscape (a company that produces a popular browser for the
World Wide Web) and DigiCash (a company that develops secure electronic
commerce technology). These links may include trade names, registered
trademarks, logos, legal or official seals, or copyrighted symbols.
Electronic Frontiers Georgia (EFGA)
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation educates the public about civil
liberties and other legal issues as they arise in the context of online
computer communications, or "cyberspace." Throughout EFF's existence,
it has initiated and/or moderated several online forums, including a forum on
the WELL (a California-based conferencing system and Internet Service Provider)
and on USENET discussion groups. These forums are primarily interactive
discussion groups, but EFF representatives also frequently participate in
online "chat" rooms, and in special online events that allow users to
discuss and debate a variety of legal and constitutional issues.
- EFF also maintains eight online mailing lists. Its primary mailing list has
a subscriber base of approximately 7500 individuals, including many located in
the State of Georgia.
- In addition, EFF has its own computer site on the Internet with extensive
resources including articles, court cases, legal papers, news releases,
newsletters, and excerpts from public discussions related to the EFF's legal,
legislative, educational and advocacy work.
- As a part of EFF's efforts to protect the privacy of online users and in
furtherance of free speech, EFF facilitates responsible anonymous communication
over computer networks in several ways. For example, many participants in
online discussions and chats sponsored by EFF use "handles," i.e.,
assumed names, rather than their actual name. EFF also provides links on its
web page to "anonymous remailers." EFF believes that online users
should be able to access its computer sites anonymously or pseudonymously. EFF
believes that pseudonymity and anonymity allows online users to participate in
discussions without revealing their name to strangers, and without fear of
retaliation for the expression of unpopular or controversial viewpoints. This
protection of privacy furthers the public interest by facilitating freer and
more frank discussions, especially on controversial issues.
- In addition, nearly all of EFF's approximately 3500 members use online
communications. EFF members both receive and transmit information through a
variety of online communications, including the World Wide Web, online mailing
lists, discussion groups, chat rooms, computer bulletin boards, and private
e-mail. Many of EFF's members use handles or pseudonyms to protect their
privacy when communicating over computer networks.
- In addition, EFF publishes through its web site an extensive archive of
articles and other information of interest to the online community, including
information on government and legislative activities, legal issues and cases,
academic freedom, censorship, free expression and other civil liberties, the
information infrastructure and network resources, intellectual property,
privacy and encryption, net culture and the online community, and social
responsibility in the use of online resources. Included within these archives
are hundreds of links to other information and resources made available by
others on the Internet on related topics. Many of these links use the trade
names of the companies, organizations, government agencies or other entities to
whom the link is provided. In some cases, EFF uses the logos or other graphical
symbols of the organizations to whom we are linking on our web site.
- The mission of Electronic Frontiers Georgia is to raise public awareness
among the citizens and elected representatives in Georgia regarding issues
relating to freedom, privacy and access in the online world. EFGA operates an
online mailing list, distributed to all members of EFGA, that provides a
discussion forum among members of EFGA. Some members participate in these
discussions using pseudonyms.
- EFGA also publishes a web page and an electronic newsletter over the
Internet with information about online issues of free speech, privacy and
access to the online medium. EFGA's web site contains news and commentary on
issues of public concern, which often uses the trade names, logos, and other
symbols and graphics of others to refer to the companies, organizations or
governmental officials or agencies discussed on the page.
- For example, the web page currently contains a news and commentary section
about a recent proposal by BellSouth to increase rates charged for ISDN lines,
a special data line that allows high speed modem access to the Internet and
other computer networks. This news advisory uses BellSouth's trade name and
logo to refer to the company and provides a link to a BellSouth customer
feedback web page to allow users to express their opinions to BellSouth about
the rate increase by e-mail.
- As a second example, EFGA's web page includes an extensive news and
commentary section relating to the Act being challenged in this lawsuit,
including a section that publishes quotes of public commentary on the Act by
several Georgia elected officials relating to the Act. This section of the web
page includes an image of the Georgia seal in its heading.
- EFGA believes that online users should be able to access its web site
anonymously and believes that information of public interest can be
disseminated more fully and freely over computer networks if they are able to
- EFGA members both receive and transmit information through a variety of
online communications, including the World Wide Web, online mailing lists,
discussion groups, chat rooms, computer bulletin boards, and private e-mail.
Many of EFGA's members use handles or pseudonyms to protect their privacy when
communicating over computer networks, especially when participating in chat or
discussion groups on local BBS systems in Georgia, but also when communicating
over commercial online services such as America Online or CompuServe, and when
posting to USENET or participating in chat groups on the Internet.
This WWW site is created and maintained by members of the Georgia House of
Representatives who form a part of the Conservative Policy Caucus. Also helpful
was our old friend Publius. The information or opinions expressed herein or at
any of the sites linked from this location do not reflect official policy of
the Georgia House of Representatives or of any individual members thereof.
- As a Representative in the Georgia House of Representatives, Mitchell Kaye
has been actively involved in the creation and publication of a web page on the
Internet, "www.gahouse.com," that provides extensive information to
the general public on the activities of the Georgia House of Representatives.
The web page is sponsored by the Conservative Policy Caucus, of which Kaye is a
member, and is not an official web page of the Georgia House of
- The Conservative Policy Caucus believes that the more the public is
informed about government and the activities and voting records of their
elected officials, the better and more responsive government will be. Thus, the
web page currently publishes voting records and explains how members of the
public can obtain audiotapes of floor debates in the House of Representatives.
It also provides links to the full text of pending legislation and information
on the status of bills under consideration during the session, which is
published separately on the Internet by the Georgia Net Authority and other
- In addition, the web page publishes information to assist members of the
public in contacting their elected representatives. The page publishes the
names, addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses of all
House members for whom this information is available to the caucus.
- The web page also publishes information on a wide variety of related
political and "good government" topics, and provides a forum for
political commentary on issues of public interest, including a link to a web
page that publicizes and criticizes the passage of the Act that is the subject
of this lawsuit.
- The web site also provides a collection of links to other Internet sites on
related political and governmental topics, including federal legislative
information resources, databases that provide the full text of historical and
political documents, and links to the web pages of various political
- The web page prominently displays the seal of the State of Georgia at the
top of the page, and below that identifies the page as "Information on the
Georgia House of Representatives." Immediately below that, the page states
that the information is "being disseminated by the Conservative Policy
Caucus." The words "Conservative Policy Caucus" are in large
bold letters, and are further emphasized by blinking on and off while the page
is being viewed through a web browser. At the end of the page, the page states:
- Notwithstanding the disclaimers, the web page has been the subject of
considerable controversy, and other members of the House of Representatives
have engaged in a series of efforts to shut the page down. They have claimed
that the page creates a false impression that it is an "official"
publication of the Georgia House of Representatives. There is in fact an
"official" web page of the House of Representatives, which can be
accessed at http://www.state.ga.us/House/. This "official" page
includes only contact information and photos of House members.
- Among other efforts to suppress the web page, House Speaker Thomas Murphy
threatened to sue Mr. Kaye personally in February 1996 if the
"www.gahouse.com" web page was not removed from the Internet. His
objection, according to his statements reported in the press at the time, was
that use of the state seal on the web page created the false impression that
this was an "official" web page of the House of Representatives,
which it was not.
- Representative Don Parsons introduced House Bill 1630, which was eventually
enacted into law and is the Act at issue in this litigation. Representative
Parsons, the author of House Bill 1630, stated at the time that this bill would
apply to and prohibit the core political expression published by the
Conservative Policy Caucus through its web site.
- Mr. Kaye has never intended to deceive anyone into believing that the web
page was an official publication of the Georgia House of Representatives. Mr.
Kaye continues to display prominently the state seal on the web page, and to
use this and other symbols (such as the flag of the United States) and the name
of the Georgia House of Representatives and other organizations on the page.
Mr. Kaye does not know whether his use of these symbols and names falsely
implies that he has obtained permission to use them despite his disclaimers.
Given the history of the Act, including the fact that the author of the Act has
stated publicly that he thinks the law would apply to the
"www.gahouse.com" page, Mr. Kaye fears prosecution under the Act.
- In addition, as an expression of protest against this statute, Mr. Kaye
occasionally uses the e-mail address "email@example.com" for online
communications and expression. He uses the pseudonym "Publius" to
draw attention to efforts of the State of Georgia to suppress free speech over
computer networks using pseudonyms by contrasting these efforts with the long
tradition in the United States that has encouraged and protected expression
under pen names and pseudonyms in, for example, the Federalist Papers published
during the original constitutional debates. Mr. Kaye does not know whether use
of the pseudonym "Publius" violates the Act because it "falsely
identifies" him. Nonetheless, he intends to continue using this pseudonym
for political expression, protest and commentary on these issues of public
- In connection with his Internet consulting business, Kenneth Leebow
publishes a web page and online newsletter, and communicates by e-mail, under
the pen name "Norman," or "Norman, The Ultimate Business
- Mr. Leebow publishes a weekly online newsletter called "Norman's
Friday Hot Tips and Sites To Visit Newsletter," which is distributed by
e-mail to subscribers each Friday. The newsletter is distributed to more than
13,000 subscribers around the world. Anyone with access to the Internet can
subscribe to the newsletter without charge.
- The weekly newsletter includes discussions and advice about a variety of
Internet-related topics, and includes a number of weekly tips for new web
sites. Mr. Leebow regularly uses the trade names of other companies in the
newsletter, to describe (sometimes in critical terms) their activities on the
Internet, and to provide links to materials they are making available on the
Internet. Mr. Leebow does not request permission from these companies before
using their trade names for the purposes of commenting upon their activities or
providing references to their web pages or other Internet materials.
- Mr. Leebow also maintains a web page under the pseudonym
"Norman," which can be accessed on the Internet at
"http://this.is/norman." The web page includes a wide variety of
information useful to businesses who operate on the web. It also includes
"Norman's List of Superior Sites on the Internet" (also known as the
"Hottest Business Web Sites" list), an extensive collection of links
to other web sites with useful government and business resources. Mr. Leebow's
web page also includes "Norman's List of Great Internet Publications"
(also known as the "Hottest Business Publications" list), which
provides links to hundreds of newspapers and magazines that are accessible to
Internet users. Mr. Leebow is also currently constructing an even more
extensive collection of links which will be called "Norman's Best 1000 of
- In the course of providing links to other web sites, Mr. Leebow routinely
uses the trade names of corporations to identify the links. He does not request
prior permission from these companies before using their trade names to provide
users with links to their web sites, and it would be impossible as a practical
matter to do so.
- Mr. Leebow began using the pen name "Norman" as a creative way of
expressing his ideas on the Internet. "Norman" was intended to be a
fun, whimsical and somewhat nerdy character that surfs the Internet for
resources that will be useful to readers and potential customers on the
Internet. Norman has become a popular character among subscribers and users of
Mr. Leebow's web page. He often receives e-mail and regular mail correspondence
and feedback addressed to Norman, and sometimes receives checks for merchandise
or services made payable to Norman.
- Plaintiff Bruce Mirken is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco,
- Most of Mr. Mirken's articles cover lesbian and gay issues and health care,
especially HIV/AIDS. For example, in 1995 he wrote two articles about the Boy
Scouts of America's policies excluding gay youth and adults from participation.
- To gather material and ideas for his articles, Mr. Mirken regularly
participates in online discussion groups on America Online (AOL), as well as
several USENET newsgroups including sci.med.aids, misc.health.aids, and
soc.support.youth.gay-lesbian-bi on the Internet. He also subscribes to
electronic mailing lists such as AIDSLEADS. In his article on gay youth in the
Boy Scouts, for example, he included the perspectives of several gay youths Mr.
Mirken contacted by posting notices in several discussion groups on America
Online and the Internet. He has published a number of other articles on similar
topics, relying upon similar interviews and material collected from similar
- Mr. Mirken believes that his ability as a journalist to contact and be
contacted by sources who need to remain anonymous is essential to his
profession in general and to his own professional activities in particular.
Many of his sources are gay people who communicate with him online only because
they can do so anonymously or using pseudonyms. Many are young people still
living at home whose families do not know of their sexual orientation. Mr.
Mirken could not have made contact with these sources if a law such as the
Georgia statute had forced them to reveal their true identities when they
- Because of the nature of the online medium, Mr. Mirken cannot know whether
any of the sources he communicates with online reside in Georgia. Additionally,
because it is impossible to determine what path a particular online
communication travels, persons outside Georgia may be communicating
"through" Georgia in order to communicate with him. He is fearful,
therefore, that the threat of prosecution under the statute may chill the
willingness of his sources to continue their online communications with him.
- In addition, Mr. Mirken fears that his online screen name may subject him
to prosecution under the Act. Although his AOL screen name, "Bmirk,"
is based on his real name, it does not identify him with specificity. He does
not know whether using "Bmirk" as a screen name "falsely
identifies" him within the meaning of the Act.
- Bonnie Nadri operates The Page Factory, a web page design business. She
maintains a web site, "http://thepagefactory.org/," to advertise
services and rates, and to solicit business for The Page Factory. Because the
design, layout and look of the web page itself is an example of The Page
Factory's web design abilities, the design and look of the page is particularly
important for business.
- Originally, The Page Factory web page published an extensive set of links
to other related resources on the Web, including other web design resources,
search engines, and links to the web pages of other Atlanta-area businesses.
The Page Factory web page used many graphics for these links in order to
demonstrate its web design services and the possibilities for design and layout
of web pages. Many of these graphics were the logos or trademarks of the
companies to whom the page was linked. For example, the Coca-Cola trademark
logo provided a link to the web site of the Coca- Cola Company in Atlanta. Ms.
Nadri did not obtain the permission of these companies before establishing
these links, and it would be impossible as a practical matter to obtain such
permission for every link.
- When Ms. Nadri learned about the passage of the Act, she became concerned
that use of these logos and graphics to provide links from The Page Factory web
page had become illegal. Because of this fear, Ms. Nadri removed the logos and
graphics from The Page Factory web page, and changed the links to text-based
references. Ultimately, she decided to remove the links altogether, because the
text-only links were drab and did not display very interesting web design
skills. Removing these links, logos and images damaged her web design business
because they limited her ability to demonstrate web design skills to potential
customers. However, Ms. Nadri believes that reinstating the links would subject
her to prosecution under the Act.
- In addition to the business web page for The Page Factory, Ms. Nadri
maintains a personal web page, which expresses her own personal interests and
provides a number of links to other web pages that are of personal interest to
her. This web page can be accessed at http://www.mindspring.com/~blnadri/.
Unlike her business site, Ms. Nadri continues to publish text-based links on
her personal web page, some of which use the trade names of companies or
organizations to whom she is linking. She is concerned that even this limited
use of trade names on her personal page may still subject her to prosecution
under the Act.
- Ms. Nadri also makes extensive use of the Internet and local Bulletin Board
Services ("BBSs") to communicate and interact with others in the
online world. She particularly enjoys participating in chat and discussion
groups on local BBSs in the Atlanta area, and over the Internet.
- When participating in chat sessions or discussion groups on local BBSs, Ms.
Nadri always uses a pseudonym or "handle." She is a single mother and
lives alone with her daughter in the Atlanta area. She is very concerned about
the risk of revealing her real name to strangers that may be participating in
or simply monitoring the chat sessions or discussions, especially when she
communicates on local BBSs. Anyone with a computer, modem and telephone can log
into these services, and if she used her real name to participate in the chat
sessions or discussion groups, anyone who has logged on would be able to find
her address. She is concerned about the risk of another user stalking or
harassing her or her daughter. For fear of harassment (or worse), she would not
continue to participate in these chat sessions if she had to use her real name.
- Josh Riley is a corporate consultant and provides residential real estate
brokerage services for a real estate brokerage company called Property Systems
Real Estate in Atlanta. In connection with his real estate business, he
operates a web site that can be accessed at
http://www.mindspring.com/~relocate. He uses this site as a means of marketing
his services as a real estate agent, providing information, for example, about
property listings. His real estate web page includes an extensive list of
"Other Links" to Atlanta and Georgia web sites that may be helpful to
people planning to move to the Atlanta area, including cultural institutions in
the Atlanta area, banks, churches, employment and business resources, and
tourist information. Several of these links include the trade names of
institutions or organizations.
- Mr. Riley also operates two Internet "domains," or locations on
the World Wide Web. The first of these is "www.worship.com," which
houses several web sites that Mr. Riley has developed and maintained for
churches and ministries in the Atlanta area, including a web page for the First
Baptist Atlanta/North Campus and a web page for the North Point Community
Church. The pages also include extensive links to related Christian ministry
resources on the Internet, including organizations like Focus on the Family,
the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, and Contemporary
Christian Music Magazine.
- The second domain Mr. Riley operates on the World Wide Web is
"www.blackbaseball.com," which publishes a variety of information
relating to the Negro Baseball Leagues that flourished in the early part of
this century when African-Americans were barred from participating in the major
leagues. This web page has been very popular and has won awards as an
outstanding Internet resource on this topic. The page includes several links to
other resources on the Negro Baseball Leagues and related baseball topics,
including a page that uses the HBO (Home Box Office) logo to urge viewers to
look for the movie "Soul of the Game."
- Mr. Riley has not requested permission to use trade names to provide links
on his web sites, and it would be impossible as a practical matter to do so for
all of the links.
- Mr. Riley also has membership accounts with America Online and Prodigy. He
uses several "screen names" or "handles" with these
accounts that are pseudonyms. Mr. Riley prefers to use a pseudonym when
contributing comments to online chats and discussion groups about real estate
and politics because he is concerned about receiving offensive messages from
other users of the service who may disagree with views that he expresses in
this medium. In addition, using a pseudonym prevents people from determining
his real identity and delivering offensive messages to him in person or over
- John Troyer is a graduate student in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Department at the University of California, San Francisco. As a public service,
he also maintains a site on the World Wide Web known as the Safer Sex Page,
which can be accessed free of charge at http://www.safersex.org. The Safer Sex
Page is composed of two separate components: the information pages and the
Safer Sex Forum.
- The information pages include brochures about safer sex, HIV transmission,
and condoms, as well as resources for health educators and counselors. In this
age of AIDS, Mr. Troyer believes the Safer Sex Page can help save lives by
providing information about safer sex practices. The Safer Sex Page also
provides information helpful in avoiding other sexually transmitted diseases
and unwanted pregnancy.
- Mr. Troyer believes that online users, especially teenagers, should be able
to access the Safer Sex Page anonymously or using pseudonyms. If young people
could not use pseudonyms in order to access the site, many of them would choose
not to enter at all for fear of disclosure. With the rate of HIV transmission
among teenagers increasing over the years, the consequences of denying them
such information could very well cost lives.
- The Safer Sex Page provides a number of links to other safer sex resources
available on the World Wide Web, including links to Planned Parenthood, the
Center for Disease Control, Condom Club International and the Rainbow Mall.
Some of these links may include trade names, registered trademarks, logos, etc.
Mr. Troyer has not received explicit permission to establish these links and it
would be practically impossible for him to do so.
- In addition to maintaining the Safer Sex Web page, Mr. Troyer moderates the
Safer Sex Forum, an online discussion group in which any Internet user can
participate. Past topics have included condom brands, how to talk about safer
sex with a sex partner, and masturbation. Because of the explicit and sensitive
nature of the topics, a number of participants in these discussions use
pseudonyms or post anonymously in order to protect their privacy. Mr. Troyer
believes that many people would not feel comfortable discussing such issues if
they could not use pseudonyms. If all participants in the Safer Sex Forum were
forced to disclose their true identity, the quantity and the quality of the
discussion would suffer.
ALLEGATIONS COMMON TO ALL PLAINTIFFS
- Jonathan Wallace is a software business executive and attorney based in New
York City. He uses the Internet extensively to communicate and access
information on both personal and business matters. Mr. Wallace has two
"user names" that he uses when communicating online. One is his real
name, Jonathan Wallace, and the other is a pseudonym, Jonathan Blumen.
- Mr. Wallace began using the pseudonym Jonathan Blumen in January, 1995, in
connection with The Ethical Spectacle, a monthly newsletter that he publishes
on the World Wide Web. In The Ethical Spectacle, Mr. Wallace expresses
political and ethical views which are sometimes of a controversial nature.
Since he sometimes writes and lectures for the New York-based software company
by which he is employed, he adopted the Jonathan Blumen pseudonym in order to
keep his business "persona" and personal beliefs separate. In
particular, he wanted to be able to express his views without his employer
being held responsible for them. For example, he wrote an essay in The Ethical
Spectacle on the antitrust case against Microsoft, a case about which his
employer could not safely take a position without endangering certain business
relationships. Mr. Wallace also uses the pseudonym Jonathan Blumen to
communicate on Internet mailing lists and discussion groups on topics such as
freedom of speech, constitutional liberty in America, cryptography and
anonymity, and threats to the environment.
- The Ethical Spectacle, which can be accessed at http://www.spectacle.org,
began in January 1995. Each issue of The Ethical Spectacle is approximately
20-30 pages. Mr. Wallace receives no payment for maintaining the newsletter.
The purpose of The Ethical Spectacle is to address issues at the intersection
of ethics, law, and politics in American life. The material in the newsletter
is meant to provoke thought about these important issues. Some issues of The
Ethical Spectacle are dedicated to particular subjects, including the meaning
of government, freedom of speech, ethics and science fiction, pornography, and
Nazi concentration camps.
- Mr. Wallace accepts e-mail submissions for publication in The Ethical
Spectacle, and occasionally publishes anonymous and pseudonymous submissions.
For example, "Bob Wilson" has written several articles that take
extremely conservative positions on issues such as welfare and gun control. Bob
is a businessman in a Western state who does not care to use his real name when
expressing his views. Another article, entitled "Mike Tyson is a Rapist,
Not a Hero", which appeared under the byline Lisa G., was submitted by a
woman who requested that her name not appear. Mr. Wallace has also received and
published mail in The Ethical Spectacle that was sent through anonymous
remailers. One letter was from a German who read an article in The Ethical
Spectacle about Auschwitz, and was very affected by it but was still struggling
with the issue of whether to believe the Holocaust occurred. This troubled
individual wrote anonymously because he wanted to confess his emotional
struggle without revealing his real name.
- Mr. Wallace does not know whether publishing articles by anonymous or
pseudonymous authors in The Ethical Spectacle violates the Act because it
constitutes "transmit[ting] data through a computer network . . . if such
data uses any individual name . . . to falsely identify the person."
Because the meaning of the Act is unclear, he is forced to choose between
rejecting anonymous submissions or risking prosecution under the Act.
- Mr. Wallace also believes it is important for readers of The Ethical
Spectacle to be able to access the web site anonymously or pseudonymously.
Because it contains controversial material, or because they do not want their
identity to be recorded by particular web sites, some readers might be
inhibited from accessing the site if they could not do so pseudonymously.
- The Ethical Spectacle currently provides links to other relevant online
material. For instance, there are links to the web sites of Yahoo (a popular
Internet search engine), Wired Magazine, United Church of Christ, the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC), Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the
American Civil Liberties Union, and Greenpeace. Some of these links may include
trade names, registered trademarks, logos, legal or official seals, or
copyrighted symbols. These links provide valuable references to information
that may be of interest to readers of the web site.
THE RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED BY THE ACT UPON
- Because of the nature of online communications, plaintiffs, their members,
users, and subscribers have no way to determine whether a particular
communication travels through the State of Georgia and therefore may be subject
to the Act. There is no way to determine the geographic location of persons who
read and reply to their postings to online newsgroups, mailing lists, and chat
rooms, or who download information from web sites. Most of these fora can be
accessed by anyone in the world, and there is no way to ensure that no one from
Georgia will view the messages. Thus, all online communications are subject to
- Plaintiffs do not intend to deceive anyone by communicating pseudonymously
or anonymously, or by providing links in their web sites to other sites with
trade names, trademarks, or logos.
- Plaintiffs do not know whether they, or their members, users, or
subscribers, could be prosecuted for communicating and accessing information
online under a pseudonym or anonymously because such communication constitutes
the "transmi[ssion of] data through a computer network . . . [and] such
data uses any individual name . . . to falsely identify the person."
Because the meaning of the Act is unclear, plaintiffs, their members, users,
and subscribers will be forced to choose between abandoning anonymity or
risking prosecution under the Act.
- Plaintiffs do not know whether they could be prosecuted under the Act for
their use in web publications of the trade names, logos, etc., of other
companies or organizations -- particularly, their use of these names or logos
to provide links to other web sites -- because it constitutes
"transmit[ting] data through a computer network . . . us[ing] any . . .
trade name, registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted
symbol to falsely . . . imply . . . permission or legal authoriz[ation] to
use such trade name, registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or
copyrighted symbol." Because some of the plaintiffs' uses of these names
or logos are in the context of critical news or commentary (such as the use of
the BellSouth logo by EFGA, or Mitchell Kaye's use of the Georgia seal), and
because of the large number of links in many of the other plaintiffs' web
sites, it would be impossible as a practical matter for plaintiffs to obtain
this permission. Because the meaning of the Act is unclear, plaintiffs will be
forced to choose between removing the links, which would significantly decrease
the value and usefulness of their web sites, or risking prosecution under the
EXPRESSION OVER OTHER NETWORKS
to transmit any data . . . over the transmission facilities or through the
network facilities of a local telephone network for the purpose of . . .
exchanging data with . . . [any] point of access to electronic
- Although the restrictions imposed by the Act certainly apply to any
communications over computer networks, they are not limited to that context.
The statute also makes it illegal knowingly:
CAUSES OF ACTION
- The Act never defines the phrase "point of access to electronic
information." The phrase is exceedingly vague, and broad enough that it
could reasonably be construed to include not only any computer, but also fax
machines, telephone answering machines, voicemail systems, ham or citizen band
radios, magnetic tapes and tape recorders, and a whole host of other similar
devices. For example, an ordinary voice telephone can certainly provide a
"point of access to electronic information," and "data" as
defined in the Act is broad enough to include voice data transmitted over local
- Thus, in addition to the communications over computer networks described
above, the Act could be construed to criminalize any communications using
pseudonyms or assumed names in many other contexts such as, for example,
communications over local private computer Local Area Networks
("LANs"), private telephone conversations, fax communications,
communications to a telephone answering machine or voice mailbox, and so forth.
As in the case of communications over computer networks, this broad sweep would
prohibit a wide array of protected expression and would violate the
Constitution for all the same reasons discussed above.
WHEREFORE, plaintiffs respectfully request the Court to:
- Plaintiffs repeat and reallege paragraph 1 - 174.
- The Act (on its face and as applied) violates the plaintiffs' rights to
free expression, association and access to information protected by the First
and Fourteenth Amendments and Art. 1, 1, 5 of the Georgia Constitution, and
their rights to privacy protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth
Amendments, and Art. 1, 1, 1, 3, 5 & 9 of the Georgia Constitution.
- The Act is substantially overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth
Amendments and Art. 1, 1, 5 of the Georgia Constitution.
- The Act is impermissibly vague in violation of the plaintiffs' First,
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Art. 1,
1, 1 & 5 of the Georgia Constitution.
- The Act imposes an unconstitutional burden upon interstate commerce in
violation the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.
(1) Declare that the Act violates the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and
Fourteenth Amendments, and the Commerce Clause, of the United States
Constitution, and Art. 1, 1, 1, 3, 5 & 9 of the Georgia Constitution, and
enjoin its enforcement.
(2) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1988, award plaintiffs reasonable attorney's fees and
(3) Award plaintiffs such further relief as the Court deems just and
This ______ day of September, 1996.
J. Scott McClain
Georgia Bar No. 482725
BONDURANT, MIXSON & ELMORE, LLP
39th Floor, One Atlantic Center
1201 West Peachtree Street, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30309
Gerald R. Weber
Georgia Bar No. 744878
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES
FOUNDATION OF GEORGIA
142 Mitchell Street, S.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
Christopher A. Hansen
Steven R. Shapiro
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION
132 West 43rd Street
New York, New York 10036
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