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The wave of litigation surrounding anonymous postings critical of companies on online investor message boards has been well-chronicled. South Florida companies Hvide Marine Inc., CyberGuard Corp., Sunbeam Corp., Technical Chemicals & Products Inc. and Ocwen Financial Corp. all have fought battles to silence anonymous critics. But companies may be facing an even more dangerous threat online: The disclosure of confidential or proprietary information on the Internet for the entire world to see. Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.-based Sports Authority Inc. claims it’s such a victim. The ailing sporting-goods chain says an anonymous poster in an investor forum on Yahoo, a popular site on the Internet, wrote statements that constitute “nonpublic, confidential, proprietary and/or ‘inside’ information.” That’s according to a suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court filed this month by Sports Authority against Yahoo Inc. The suit demands the Internet firm turn over documents that could lead to the anonymous poster’s identity. At issue are comments by a poster who goes by the name “worthless words.” In an Aug. 4 posting, worthless words wrote Sports Authority has “exhausted their credit on inventory and now [has] a new line putting the real estate up for collateral.” Three days later, Sports Authority announced in a press release that it has increased its long-term committed line of credit by $60 million. “The harm to the Sports Authority is a result of this person’s release of confidential information,” said Frank Bubb, the company’s general counsel. “We have a strict policy at Sports Authority against employees releasing confidential information.” The Sports Authority suspects “worthless words” is an employee, Bubb said. In a subsequent posting on Aug. 6, the poster anticipates the company will eventually be liquidated. “Plenty of time to send out my resume,” the posting concluded. Bubb declined to say what other steps Sports Authority has taken to learn the identity of the poster. “Worthless words” didn’t respond to an inquiry posted in the Sports Authority investor forum on Yahoo. This isn’t the first time Sports Authority has sued Yahoo. Last year, it sued to learn the identity of a poster it accused of making defamatory statements. Sports Authority successfully got Yahoo to turn over the documents, but they weren’t enough to uncover the identity of the poster, Bubb said. He doesn’t believe that poster is the same as “worthless words.” A Yahoo spokesman didn’t respond to an inquiry before deadline. However, Yahoo has previously told the Daily Business Review in similar cases that it will comply with any subpoenas or court orders it receives on such matters. The Yahoo official added it doesn’t police its message boards, but it can terminate members who violate the terms of service. Miami-based AnswerThink Inc. learned an anonymous poster it accused of disclosing company secrets was, in fact, a company executive. Earlier this year, AnswerThink accused Gregory Hackett, who used the online name of “Aquacool_2000,” of violating his employment agreement by divulging privileged information. Hackett sold his consulting business to AnswerThink in 1997 for $6.5 million in cash and a note for $5.1 million, the Miami Herald reported in June. The matter erupted into at least four different lawsuits, including AnswerThink suing Hackett, and Hackett suing AnswerThink and Yahoo. The disputes were all settled last month. While terms of the settlements are confidential, Hackett had to make a public apology to AnswerThink in the investor forum on Yahoo. Suits like Sports Authority’s raise the issue of ensuring the anonymous posters are notified when somebody tries to learn their identity by serving subpoenas on message-board operators like Yahoo. “What I have a problem with is when people go after people with pseudonyms and make no effort to let them know,” said Ronald Ravikoff, a Miami lawyer who defended Hackett. “We need to make sure the anonymous posters are given a chance to protect themselves.”

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