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Eclipse Seeks Bloggers' Identities

By Andrew Webb
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Eclipse Aviation has asked a California court to force the unmasking of anonymous commenters who posted on Web sites covering the company.
    A subpoena issued last week by the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara County orders Google to provide names, addresses and other information for about 28 commenters to eclipsecriticng.blogspot.com.
    Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn said in an interview that the intent was not to shut down the blog but to find out whether some of the anonymous posters were current or ex-employees or people otherwise legally bound by nondisclosure agreements with the company.
    "We're not trying to suppress dissension or criticism," he said. "We're just trying to find out where it's coming from."
    Eclipse is building a $1.5 million twin-engine jet. The startup company has gained a high profile in the aviation industry and has been accused of failing to deliver on some promises.
    The blog named in the subpoena is a replacement for the original Eclipse Aviation Critic blog at eclipseaviationcritic.blogspot. com.
    Retired aircraft engineer Stan Blankenship, who operated the original blog since April 2006, stopped updating it in January, citing fears of "retribution" from Eclipse and its investors.
    The current blog, Eclipse Aviation Critic NG (for Next Generation) was launched on Blogger a few days later.
    The authors of both have posted exhaustively on alleged goings-on at Eclipse, often citing unnamed sources.
    The comments section, in which readers respond to the posts, frequently contain anonymous assertions that Eclipse is on the verge of bankruptcy, that executives are about to be fired, or that the aircraft themselves are of poor quality.
    Many commenters claim to be current or former employees with insider information, or customers or suppliers to the company.
    Spirited arguments between critics and those they term "the faithful" often generate hundreds of comments.
    The commenters named in the subpoena have names like coldwetmackarelofreality, plastic planes, easybakeplane and airtaximan.
    Google is based in Menlo Park, Calif.
    Its legal team, in a letter to Eclipse Aviation Critic NG author Shane Price, said it would provide IP addresses of anonymous posters by May 9 unless Price or one of the commenters files a formal objection in court.
    Several blog readers Monday vowed to back such a motion. Price, in an e-mail to the Journal, vowed a "robust" defense and said he had no plans to change the blog.
    IP, or Internet protocol, addresses are unique numerical addresses issued when someone connects to the Internet. Knowing an IP address is a step toward finding the identity of an anonymous blog poster, but it typically only reveals basic information such as that user's Internet service provider, or ISP.
    A plaintiff would then have to take legal action against the ISP to get names and other specific information about individual posters.
    Raburn said Eclipse would see what it could get from Google before moving ahead with subsequent legal action.
    At this point, the California case contains no more than a subpoena, but Raburn acknowledged it is connected to a civil case against unknown defendants, named as Jane and John Does and filed in Albuquerque's Metropolitan Court in March.
    The complaint in that case was sealed the day it was filed.
    "I don't care if people want to waste their lives speculating about things, but I do care when people represent themselves as having insider knowledge and what they're saying is overt lies," Raburn said.
    "I'm trying to figure out why they make these accusations but don't say who they are."