The Scottsdale-based gossip website TheDirty.com, and its founder Nik Richie are no longer on the hook for a six-figure payout in a defamation lawsuit that had been won by a former NFL cheerleader.
A jury awarded former high school teacher and Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones $338,000 in damages as a result of two comments people posted to the Dirty in 2009, but a federal appeals has reversed that decision.
The problem for Jones was that Richie wasn't the one who wrote the comments. It was just his website.
"Jones was found to be the object of defamatory content published on a user-generated, online tabloid; however, the judgment in her favor cannot stand," the appellate court's ruling says. "Under the [The Communications Decency Act of 1996], Richie and Dirty World were neither the creators nor the developers of the challenged defamatory content that was published on the website."
The gossip comments posted to the website were done so anonymously.
The comments in question said:
Nik, this is Sara J, Cincinnati Bengal[sic] Cheerleader. She's been spotted around town lately with the infamous Shayne Graham. She also has slept with every other Bengal Football player. This girl is a teacher too! You would think with Graham's paycheck he could attract something a little easier on the eyes Nik!
Nik, here we have Sarah J, captain cheerleader of the playoff bound cinci bengals. . Most ppl see Sarah has [sic] a gorgeous cheerleader AND highschool teacher. . yes she's also a teacher . . but what most of you don't know is . . Her ex Nate . . cheated on her with over 50 girls in 4 yrs.. in that time he tested positive for Chlamydia Infection and Gonorrhea . . so im sure Sarah also has both . . what's worse is he brags about doing sarah in the gym . . football field . . her class room at the school where she teaches at DIXIE Heights.
If Jones wanted to sue someone, the appellate court's ruling says, it should have been the person making the comments.
"In this case, Jones conceded that she did not attempt to recover from the person(s) whose comments Richie elected to publish," the decision says. "She conceded that she did not attempt to subpoena Richie or Dirty World to discover who authored the defamatory posts. Instead, she sued Dirty World and Richie. But, under the CDA, Jones cannot seek her recovery from the online publisher where that publisher did not materially contribute to the tortious content.
According to the appeals court, this particular section of the Communications Decency Act was supposed to prevent lawsuits like this.
"Congress enacted § 230(c)(1) [of the Communications Decency Act] to preserve a free internet, and that enactment resolves this case," the judges' ruling says.
Richie has since taken credit for saving the Internet.
I saved the internet today.
— Nik Richie (@nikrichie) June 16, 2014
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