Sarah Jones, a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader, lost her defamation case against a gossip website. The case stemmed from the posting of an anonymous user claiming Jones had sex with half of the players on the team and contracted sexually transmitted diseases, according to The Courier-Journal.
An earlier verdict in her favor was overturned by a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel. The court said that even though Jones was “the object of defamatory content,” the website and its operator cannot be held responsible for the posting of a third-party. The website is TheDirty.com and its operator is Nik Richie. The lower court awarded Jones $338,000 last year.
Facebook, eBay, Google and Amazon were some of just 30 companies that filed a joint brief supporting Richie. The brief claimed that Richie should be protected under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects website operators from being held liable for content posted by third parties.
“It’s disappointing,” Jones’ lawyer, Chris Roach, said, “We were really hoping it would be Nik Richie who would be (taking the case) to the Supreme Court, but we’ll be doing it instead.”
Using Twitter, Richie said, “I saved the internet today. Your freedom continues.”
David Gingras, the lawyer for Richie, said he is pleased with the ruling, but wanted the case to go in front of the Supreme Court. Should a writ of certiorari be filed by Roach, Gingras said he would join the filing.
The ruling was applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday.
“This decision rightly recognizes the essential value of websites that offer platforms for user speech, including critical speech that helps consumers and reviewers connect and share their experiences online,” ACLU lawyer Lee Rowland said in a statement. “The ruling reaffirms the importance of user-driven speech to a free and robust internet, and ensures that websites can offer spaces for community criticism without risking constant litigation over the comments of its users.”
Roach said that Richie was a developer liable for the postings because he encouraged people to publish defamatory comments on the website.
The ruling is a “green light to do anything that’s technically illegal on the Internet,” Roach said. “It’s letting (Richie) post whatever he wants with immunity.”
Should the Supreme Court decline to hear the case, Jones will probably have to pay the court costs for Richie. This means that filing the lawsuit has actually cost Jones $5,000. Gingras also noted that Richie is thinking about filing a malicious prosecution suit in order to recover the $100,000 he spent on legal fees.