Thomson Safaris Using Subpoenas to Out Opponents of Its Excesses Against Masai Villagers

by Paul Alan Levy

Anonymous Internet users based in Tanzania are fighting a subpoena from Wineland-Thomson Adventures, a company that runs super-luxury safaris and climbs on Mount Kilimanjaro under the name Thomson Safaris, seeking to identify the authors of a web site that takes Thomson to task over allegations of brutal attacks on Masai villagers whose livestock have got in the way of the tourism business.  Thomson sued the Doe defendants in California, of all places, and subpoenaed Weebly, the ISP that hosts the critical web site.  The Does have moved to dismiss Wineland’s complaint on the ground that it is too vague to state a claim, as well as moving to strike under the California anti-SLAPP statute.

About two years ago, I had some strong words for Weebly, which responded to a subpoena for over identifying information about the author of a blog about Thomas Cooley Law School without waiting for a ruling on a motion to quash.  In this situation, Weebly went to the other extreme, ignoring the subpoena completely until it faced a motion for contempt sanctions.  Weebly had enough sense of responsibility to be embarrassed about its failing, urging the Court to hold it responsible for attorney fees for forcing Wineland-Thomson to move for relief, while at the same time asking the Court not to penalize the Does for its procedural default, because they could easily face retaliation in Tanzania if their names are disclosed. 

More important, it has hired the redoubtable Joshua Koltun, whose defense of anonymous bloggers in the Art of Living case won considerable acclaim as well as setting a significant precedent in the anonymous speech area.  Koltun is also representing the Does.  We can hope that Weebly’s anonymous customers can count on prompt notice of subpoenas as well as more robust protections going forward.

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