Another Lawsuit Arrives To Challenge The Anonymity of YouTube Users

Another Lawsuit Arrives To Challenge The Anonymity of YouTube Users

Suing YouTube commenters is all the rage.  Hot on the heels of the news that a Manhattan judge has ruled that Google must turn over the names of anonymous YouTube commenters to former model Carla Franklin, we have another case involving legal action against users of the video site.

There's a bit of back-story involved, so please bear with me.  Back in July a video surfaced on YouTube of protesters at the G20 conference in Toronto.  The video went viral because of a slightly over-the-top threat from police officer Adam Josephs to a female protester who was blowing bubbles at the him:  "If the bubble touches me, you're going to be arrested for assault.”  Even the female police officer in the video seems shocked to hear the man say this.  Here's the video:

The Internet was quick to dub him Officer Bubbles, a moniker that he was, understandably, not fond of.  Parody videos were created and uploaded, including a cartoon where a similarly-named police officer arrests a woman for assault because he was "touched by your expression of love.”  (That's pretty funny, actually).  And, as YouTube commenters are prone to do, many people left remarks further mocking the officer.

But rather than learn a valuable lesson in saying silly things on camera, the officer in question has decided to go after a couple of YouTube commenters for their remarks on the video.  One such user wrote: "Officer bubbles probably looks at himself in the mirror a lot.”

Really?  That's a lawsuit-worthy comment?  I'm struggling to even find much of an insult in that sentence, and yet Officer Josephs was so offended that he's getting legal.  But it might not be necessary, because that commenter is actually willing to out himself.  In an interview with the Toronto Star, the man—one Todd Mara—reveals his true identity, and talks about how frivolous he believes the lawsuit to be:

"I don't know why this guy wants to draw more attention to himself. I can't figure it out. It's ridiculous. I mentioned, according to what I saw in the video, that he's an egomaniac.  I stand by what I did. I thought he was out of line.”

All told, they're going after at least 26 YouTube commenters' identities and have even sued YouTube themselves for hosting the parody videos—those parodies have since been taken offline.

This case is markedly different from Carla Franklins in one key area:  Officer Josephs wasn't really defamed.  Parody is fairly well protected as free speech, and though I can't see the cartoon spoof videos now that they've been taken down, everything I've read about them puts them right in line with the definition of parody.  Most Saturday Night Live sketches and late night talk show monologues are more biting in their criticism of public personalities than this kind of thing.  And calling someone's narcissism into question isn't legally as dangerous as suggesting sexual impropriety.

But the case does keep this issue in the headlines and push it further into the public debate over anonymity online.  Does free speech come with the inherent right to privacy?  Should anonymity be abolished online?  There's a certain argument for that, considering that most things taking place online would not allow for similar anonymity were they taking place in the real world.  However, it might be too late.  Those who wish to remain unidentified have enjoyed the ability to do so in comments, chat-rooms, and other online venues for decades.

It certainly seems like the issue is gaining steam and will only grow larger in the coming months.  I'll be keeping my eye on this story to see how YouTube reacts, and what Officer Josephs and his attorneys decided to do with any information they retrieve.

About the Author -
Jeremy Scott is the founder of The Viral Orchard, an Internet marketing firm offering content writing and development services, viral marketing consulting, and SEO services. Jeremy writes constantly, loves online video, and enjoys helping small businesses succeed in any way he can. View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • Innadiated

    you can view the cartoon, check out "MisterOfficerBubbles" channel on youtube. Each cartoon mocks a certain aspect of police behavior at the G20, not just officer bubbles. You can verify this by searching for "toronto g20" and watching the massloads of videos showing police misconduct.

    • http://www.reelseo.com/ Mark Robertson

      So funny... thanks for sharing.

  • Richard

    I've been told before that (some) Americans have less of a problem with saying "I'll sue you" before they can say "I love you" and this video attests to that...

    • Innadiated

      Officer Bubbles is Canadian actually.

  • get a life

    what's next ??? blowing bubbles is intent to cause physical harm? the bubble popped in my eye and it caused me to cry? Guess the officer suffers from low self esteem, imagine what he does when he arrests a criminal and they curse him out!!! pepper spray his eyes while cuffed and say he did it because the guy resisted arrest? Seems like a scary type of personality to give a tin star and gun with a ego trip. wonder if one day someone verbally abuses him he gets angry enough to shoot insulter!

    • Spacegeek_Nat

      Dear God, but what balls you have! Don't you know you could be sued for those very comments?!?
      I would call him a giant douche but I don't need any more lawsuits under my belt...

  • Blabla

    Obviously the canadian police have the same gangster attitudes as their American thugs with a badge.
    Yes, Americanism has swept the globe.

  • MultiApproachAvoidanceConfilct

    The US Supreme Court has already - historically - ruled that police officers cannot be "offended" by citizens' non-violent expressions of their right to dissent against government policy. If this cop was white, I would have been predisposed to believe that he was trained by the all white "good old boy, bubba school of police officer (truck driver) training.? This is a joke. Police Officers have to suck it up and put their personal feelings aside. This kind of thinking is why the Klan was so popular, because it did not require anything more, than knee jerk behavior, independent of responsible thought process.

  • jack sprat

    " But rather than learn a valuable lesson in saying silly things on camera, the officer in question has decided to go after a couple of YouTube commenters for their remarks on the video. One such user wrote: “Officer bubbles probably looks at himself in the mirror a lot.” Really? That’s a lawsuit-worthy comment? I’m struggling to even find much of an insult in that sentence, and yet Officer Josephs was so offended that he’s getting legal. But it might not be necessary, because that commenter is actually willing to out himself. In an interview with the Toronto Star, the man—one Todd Mara—reveals his true identity, and talks about how frivolous he believes the lawsuit to be:
    “I don’t know why this guy wants to draw more attention to himself. I can’t figure it out. It’s ridiculous. I mentioned, according to what I saw in the video, that he’s an egomaniac. I stand by what I did. I thought he was out of line.” "

    Hilarious, Jeremy. Maybe Officer Bubbles flashed back to Eric Roberts' chilling turn opposite Mariel Hemingway in "Star 80." The movie's most memorable moment has him creepily pumping iron and flexing narcissistically in front of a large mirror. Obviously, too close to home for someone whose identity is bound up in a cold gun.

  • Drumsurgeon666

    Officer Bubbles, it is my opinion your a fag, sue me.

  • Suerosenorn

    This cop obviously hates his job. I think he might have been having a bad day already when he encountered this annoying girl with her frivulous antics and just snapped.

    • http://twitter.com/LucyFussbudget Lucy Fussbudget

      I know for sure he has no sense of humor. He is a trigger happy cop that I would not want to encounter. I am sure he believes in shoot first ask questions later.

  • SqueakyCleanHarry

    When Bubbles are outlawed....only Outlaws will have bubbles.

  • http://twitter.com/LucyFussbudget Lucy Fussbudget

    Officer Bubbles should give a seminar on how to waste taxpayers' money (on worthless arrests).

  • Jsmith007

    Am I allowed to sue this guy for my loss of faith in our police force? What are the rules about intimidation? I only ask because he seems a bit more intimidating and on the offensive than she does.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OQ55BKT6ZZLCFLOWPJV36OXKME blitherer

    Windbag is a better moniker.

  • peterb37

    Office Bubbles is an rectal orifice. Prime example of the kind of morons we have on our police forces. So sue me bubbles !!!!

  • CptFreakout

    Wow ! the Canadian fuzz is just as prone to macho insecurity as the US fuzz. (macho insecurity a most amazing tune by the Dead Kennedy's).

  • Bob

    I wouldn't worry if you are a US citizen. I don't know the Canadian freedom of speech protections concerning parody, but Larry Flynt, though I hate him, has already fought this battle for us here in the US before the supreme court and kicked butt! no worries about officer bubbles.

  • Route66paul

    If that was the US, the officer would have no recourse, but the state might arrest the video cameraman. LEOs are supposed to be tough and just let those comments roll off of them. If they can't take the heat,..........................

  • Industrionic

    OK lets see, protesters+enough push= Riots. Thats what cops dont want. Disrespectful girl blowing bubbles at a cop who doesnt even want to be there is just stupid. And then posting that video just to make fun of this person is bullying. Every single person that knows that cop is laughing at him but its all ok because it wasnt any of you who was bullied, his life is a reflection now of that moment. I think people shouldnt post videos of others without their consent and yes officer take all of their money because you know that there is no way you can go back to work without getting into a fight or two. Sorry this happened to you man I guess being a jerk 24-7 to others is just never going to end.

  • Brian

    Base your e-business outside the USA to protect yourself from America's lawsuit-happy society.