Many sites permit a former lover to report an unfaithful spouse or significant other for the purported reasons of deterring cheating and warning others. But, due to their potential for abuse, many people believe that websites that identify allegedly cheating husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends are illegal. However the truth is more nuanced. Most sites that do not stray into the areas of revenge or child porn are probably legal in most states. However, despite the probable legality of the sites, the user content that is posted may be criminal or civilly actionable and individuals who contribute content are responsible for the content they post.
Child Porn is Illegal in All States; Revenge Porn Is Illegal in a Majority of States; Copyrighted Materials Are Protected Throughout the U.S.
Before we discuss the more nuanced issues, let’s first look at the types of content which undoubtedly carry some level of restrictions or potential illegality. First, the possession and distribution (posting) of child pornography is illegal in all 50 states and under federal law. While state definitions of child porn vary, the federal definition is extremely expansive. For instance, even a drawing of an imaginary child engaged in a sexual act can create criminal liability. Photographs of allegedly cheating underage individuals or the posting of private nude photos showing an underage individual as revenge porn is undoubtedly illegal.
Revenge porn or the posting of private photos of a sexual nature to humiliate or embarrass can be criminal or civilly actionable even when an adult is depicted in many states. In fact, roughly, 27 states have already passed laws criminalizing revenge porn. About 10 states currently have revenge porn legislation pending. Furthermore, in 9 states including California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas the victim of revenge porn may file a private lawsuit against the poster of the images.
Finally, images that are copyrighted or where intellectual property rights are retained may not be used online without permission. Individuals may file a DMCA takedown if they hold a good-faith belief that the site is infringing on their protected work.
Provisions of the Communications Decency Act Makes Many User-Generated Content Sites Legal
As to why the sites remain legal when illegal and civilly actionable can be posted to them can perhaps be best explained in that one must take the bad that comes along with the good. That is, it’s no secret that user-generated content sites have exploded in number and popularity over the course of the past decade. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, Tumblr, and many, many others not only allow the posting of user-driven content, but thrive and only exist because of it. In a sense, cheater websites that rely on user-submitted content are not significantly different from the sites above provided that the site engages in its particular subject matter niche in good-faith and not for purposes of extortion or merely to embarrass and humiliate with false information.
The reason this is so is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, also known as Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The law states that:
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.
What this means is that providers of interactive Internet sites cannot be held liable for user-provided or third-party content posted to the website. This law was essentially an analog of previous practices such as where the telephone company was not held liable for the potentially illegal uses of or defamatory speech that could be transmitted over the telephone. To qualify for this immunity a service provider such as a website must meet three criteria:
- The party or entity is a “provider or user” of an “interactive computer service.”
- The party or entity is treated as the publisher or speaker in a lawsuit over the information, posting, or speech in question.
- The information must have come from another source and the site or entity must not be the source of the information.
In Zeran v. AOL (1998), it was held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “creates a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service.” Thus, most sites that post only user-generated materials – including cheater websites – are legal. While the sites themselves are legal, individuals embarrassed by false or defamatory statements appearing on these sites can still take action to remove the material and protect their reputation.
Have You Found Defamatory Postings About You on Internet Cheater Sites?
If you have found defamatory or false postings about you on online cheater shaming websites, you don’t have to live with the abuse and negative impacts on your professional and social life. Work with the experienced Internet defamation removal lawyers of Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA. The Reputation LawyersTM guarantee the removal of the posting from the cheater website or you get your money back. To schedule a free no-obligation initial consultation call (216) 373-7706 or contact us online.