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What is an estimated cost for hiring experts to identify online anonymous libel/defamation speakers?

Columbia, SC |

If someone responds anonymously to a online blog post that is deemed libel/defamation, what would the approximate costs be to find out who this anony is? I understand that experts may have to be hired and various other people to research who the anony is. What costs are expected and how long does the "research" to find the IP address and then the person to whom it belongs usually take?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. Hard to put an exact figure on it, even in terms of hours, because it cannot be known at the outset how much effort has been made to hide the identify. Shell corporations, LLC's which own LLC's, each has to be peeled out like an onion. You can set a limit for your PI for the initial probe. The PI can likely tell how close to the owner the investigation came, or may even find the poster at once. Call around, determin hourly rate, any minimum, and ask for a ballpark, or if the PI would try $xx dollars worth of search. Good PI's value their reputations.

    We do not have a client/attorney relationship until you make an appointment, we discuss your case face to face, I accept a retainer, and we explictly agree to enter into representation.

  2. It can take a very long time if your antagonist is very committed to their cause and they know what they are doing. As well, it can be very quick and cheap if they are an idiot. I use several such investigators on behalf of clients. The price range is really anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000 (if you need court intervention to tie IP Addresses to an Identity). Remember, hire a licensed Private Investigator. I'll provide a link for you to a very experienced one and he can give you a quote. I've hired him in the past for clients. Cyber Investigation Services, LLC is owned by an Ex-Law Enforcement Officer who is now a Licensed PI. The second, ICS, can help you find a PI locally; I have never hired them, though they have come recommended to me.

    Good Luck...hopefully you don't have to get an attorney involved. That's when the price get's really high.

    The recommendations in this answer are not considered legal advice for the purposes of ethical, legal and practical evaluation, nor does this recommendation create a retention of counsel agreement between us, wherein an attorney-client relationship exists. These recommendations should never be relied upon without first consulting an attorney in your jurisdiction. I am not your attorney, unless we enter into a written agreement fulfilling the terms of that agreement. The comments posted herein are purely for educational purposes and public discourse only.

  3. It can depend. If a lawyer needs to be involved, with lengthy research and drafting of subpoenas and court orders, you are looking into the 5-digits range.

    Generally what has to be done is find out from the blog owner (or the hosting provider, if the owner does not prove helpful) what the IP address, time and other data used in the posting are. Then, you can track that to a particular IP at a particular time. You then have to subpoena the internet service provider to get billing information on that particular IP....IF they have it.

    At any step in this process, information can be missing and you're out of luck. Or, the IP may not be traceable to a fine enough level of detail (example: dynamic IPs) and you're out of luck. Or, you may get it down to a single household or building, but be unable to identify which person made the posting, in which case you are possibly out of luck. You might then have to fight a legal battle to prove whether the person could have possibly made the posting in question -- SEPARATE from your issue of proving defamation from the statement itself.

    So it can be rather difficult to do and the research can take some time (depending on how quickly the requested responses come back).

    The author is a Maryland attorney; however no answer given on Avvo is intended as legal advice or intended to create an attorney-client relationship.

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