The “Dirty Army” Lost a Battle, but the CDA Section 230 War is Far from Over

By Aaron Minc | Defamation

Aug 18
Learn how to remove posts from TheDirty.com

On July 8, 2013 a federal jury awarded $338,000 in damages to former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader and high school teacher Sarah Jones, for a posting on a website called Thedirty.com. The verdict is significant, as a ruling by the Eastern District of Kentucky issued during the case may lead to a re-examination of the scope of immunity that websites and service providers currently have against liability for defamation under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act.

In the lawsuit, Jones sued a notorious gossip site known as the “TheDirty.com” for libelous postings on the site in 2009 that accused her of having a sexually transmitted disease and sleeping with every player on the Cincinnati Bengals football team (Ironically, Jones pled guilty to charges stemming from a sexual relationship she had with a student at the high school she taught at last year). During the lawsuit, TheDirty.com website defended itself by arguing that it was immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (the “CDA”).

Section 230 of the CDA provides that “[n]o 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.”  Simply put, the CDA protects websites from being held liable for defamatory statements made by third parties who publish information on their site. This immunity has been held up by courts time and time again.  However, Judge William O. Bertelsman presiding over this case denied TheDirty’s Section 230 CDA defense in a ruling on January 10, 2012.

Bertelsman found that TheDirty.com did not qualify for CDA immunity because, along with TheDirty’s name, management style, and comments added by the owner of the site to every post, the site “specifically encouraged the development of what is offensive about the content.” Although this case is seen as a victory for Internet defamation victims who are in desperate need of avenues for relief under the CDA, the war is far from over.  The case is currently being appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

Given the broad protections afforded by the CDA, I would not be surprised if the case is overturned (at least in part) or limited to the specific facts on appeal because of the specific comments that the site owner posted in the case that was an important factor in the ruling.

If the decision stands “as is” it could lead to disastrous consequences for websites like TheDirty, who may not be able to operate under their current business model in the future because of liability concerns. The verdict could lead TheDirty and sites like it to shut down from the groundswell of litigation they will inevitably face from plaintiffs looking to hold them liable for third party statements published on their sites. I’ll be very interested in seeing what the Sixth Circuit has to say about the matter.

If you or your company is being defamed online on a website like TheDirty, the Internet attorneys at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA can assist you in removing the content from the Internet and recovering monetary damages against the author of the information and possibly the website where the content was published. Call Attorney Aaron Minc at (216) 831-0042  or by e-mail at Aminc@meyersroman.com today to discuss your specific matter further.

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(3) comments

Mary 3 years ago

Hello, I am from Canada and have been trying to have an article also removed from the web which is also posted in dirty.com.
I have contacted the company and have also spoken to googles legal department.
The content is malicious rumours and contains my personal photographs taken off my deceased daughters memorial website ( which is who the article is about). It also contains the names of my underage young grandchildren which is subjecting them to bullying.
The fiancé of the deceased who is also named in the article is a deputy sherif And he has asked dirty to remove the article as the information is also detrimental to his position of employment.
I don’t know what you charge to pursue legal action but this article is defamatory to my child and she is deceased but has had a dubstantial detrimental impact on her young son who is suffering from depression and because of her death and our fear is that of suicide .
The father of my grandchildren has written the dirty. Com several times asking them to remove the article because of the negative bullying effect it is having on his children.
Help!

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Doug Hahn 3 years ago

Hello there has been information that is not true posted on the dirty army website are you able to get this off and is there a fee for your services?

Doug Hahn

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    Aaron Minc 3 years ago

    Possibly. Every client’s situation is unique. Please call my office to discuss further.

    Aaron

    Reply
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