A Philadelphia court has ordered a company to identify those who wrote defamatory comments about a US law firm on two websites, ruling that online statements that are clearly defamatory are not entitled to free speech protection.

The comments appeared on websites belonging to a party in a property dispute, Jerry Pantelidis and his company JPA Development. The law firm, Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg & Ellers, acted for the other side.   The comments that appeared in a guest book on one site were brutal. Of the firm's relationship with its client, the court noted that someone wrote: "Wow! A match made in their respective heavens: Money hungry, without ethics, f**k everybody, eat my partner, backstabbing … Wow! A perfect match."   The law firm demanded to know who had posted the comments. Pantelidis refused to say, arguing that to do so would be in breach of free speech rights.   However, according to Judge Albert W Sheppard Jr, some of the comments were sufficiently strong to amount to “defamation per se”.   The judge therefore ordered the disclosure of the identities of those responsible. "While the posters are undeniably entitled to First Amendment rights, the defamatory per se statements are not entitled to First Amendment protection," he wrote.