Jones v. Dirty World Entm't Recordings (E.D.Ky., No. 2:09-cv-00219-WOB) 8/12/13
- Sarah Jones, a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader and ex-high school teacher, brought a defamation suit against the gossip site -- Thedirty.com -- for allegedly ruining her reputation by publishing false comments in an article that appeared on the website.
- Thedirty.com is a website that encourages visitors to submit gossip-related posts for possible publication.
- The article at the heart of this lawsuit entitled, “The Dirty Bengals Cheerleader,” included allegations that Jones had sexually transmitted diseases and had slept with all of the members of the Bengals football team.
- A key fact in this case was that the site proprietor, Nik Richie, after publishing this third-party gossip piece, added his own comment: “Why are high school teachers freaks in the sack?”
- Defendants moved to dismiss the case, arguing that they were entitled to immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (the “CDA”).
CDA SECTION 230:
- Section 230(c)(1) of the CDA provides: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
- Essentially, the basic purpose of the CDA is to protect website owners from liability for comments made by third parties.
- The court denied defendant’s claim for immunity, holding that the CDA “was intended only to provide protection for site owners who allow postings by third parties without screening them and those who remove offensive content.”
- The court added that immunity does not apply where the owners invite “invidious postings” by virtue of the site’s name, and then elaborate on such posts with comments of their own, thereby encouraging other visitors to respond in kind.
- The court conducted a thorough review of decisions throughout the various circuit courts and concluded that although CDA immunity is broad, there are certain circumstances under which the immunity may be lost.
- Specifically, the court pointed out that “a website owner who intentionally encourages illegal or actionable third-party postings to which he adds his own comments ratifying or adopting the posts becomes a ‘creator’ or ‘developer’ of that content and is not entitled to immunity.”
- The jury awarded Jones $338,000 in damages for her claims of defamation.
- Here, the court noted that defendants’ involvement went beyond mere editorial functions and extended to the creation of their own content.
- Website operators should take notice of this important decision and carefully consider their role in publication of third-party content.