Filmmaker Sues Websites After Commenters Cost Him A Job

from the misdirected dept

Over the years, we've been threatened with lawsuits a few too many times -- almost always due to something that someone said in our comments. The pace of those threats has certainly increased over the years, but most are nothing more than angry bluster. In the few cases where it appears to be someone serious, we have our lawyers explain to them Section 230 in rather plain language, noting that suing us for something said by others in our forums will (1) get thrown out of court incredibly quickly and (2) probably only serve to bring a lot more attention to the comments they're so pissed off about. To date, this has always worked quite well.

Of course, other countries don't have Section 230 safe harbors, and so you get a lot more ridiculous lawsuits with someone blaming a forum owner for what people say in that forum. Hopefully, common sense prevails in those cases too... but you never know. A bunch of folks have sent in the story of a lawsuit in Australia where a filmmaker is suing some online forums for comments in those forums that the filmmaker believes cost him a job. Apparently, some folks agreed to a deal with him to produce a certain movie, but after finding those comments, they pulled out of the deal.

First of all, the filmmaker, Greg Smith, appears to be suing the wrong parties. Rather than those who actually made the comments, he's suing the owners of the web forums where the comments occurred. And, on top of that, he never contacted those forum owners about the comments in the first place (at least one says that the first he knew about the complaints was when the lawsuit was filed -- at which point he immediately removed the comments anyway). And, of course, all this has really served to do is call a lot more attention to the comments about Smith (and the way he handles such things).


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jul 16th, 2009 @ 12:06pm

    Hrmm

    "In the few cases where it appears to be someone serious, we have our lawyers explain to them Section 230 in rather plain language, noting that suing us for something said by others in our forums will (1) get thrown out of court incredibly quickly"

    Nice to have the resources you do. For most of the rest of us, that's like someone incurring an automatic fine (i.e., the expense of a lawyer) on command.

    The system is fraked.

     

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  2.  
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    Nikki Thomas, Jul 16th, 2009 @ 12:18pm

    I Agree

    I agree that he is suing the wrong parties. The forum owners should not have to suffer for Actions of the commentors, although the forums should moderated more closely. -Nikki-

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2009 @ 12:46pm

    Re: I Agree

    No. They shouldn't.

     

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  4.  
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    ranon, Jul 16th, 2009 @ 12:55pm

    How would the comments of an internet troll on a forum cause a person to loose a $45 million project.

    What is far more likely is that the person awarding the project was scared off not by the comments of the troll, but by Mr Smith's comments.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2009 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Hrmm

    Even then, relying 100% on Section 230 isn't always legally prudent. Example, as Mike operates the website, writes the stories (which there is no 230 safe harbor for) and comments (which puts the 230 status of comments in doubt, as Techdirt would be liable for comments from themselves), it is a sort of tricky route to go down.

    Actually, this guy sued the right people, but should have also sued the "john doe" poster at the same time, which would likely allow him to summon logs and other records to attempt to track down the poster. For justification, he would only have to get a sworn statement from the people who backed out that the comments on the website are what swayed their decision.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2009 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Hrmm

    I wonder if we could get a public domain version of this letter for anyone to send when needed ?

     

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  7.  
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    JTO, Jul 16th, 2009 @ 1:33pm

    First, no matter how much money they've got, you don't want an investor who gets scared away from a project just because of what some anonymous person wrote on an Internet site.

    Second, if you can't defend yourself against baseless accusations made by a bunch of paint-eating Internet wingnuts, you don't deserve to have anyone give you money.

    Oh yeah. CHT, while it is nice to be in a situation where you have general counsel on retainer, you don't need it. Simply sending the claimant a link to the section that protects you is usually enough. You have the resources. You can either use the Internet or go to your local library and ask a librarian for help. Both are generally free.

     

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  8.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 16th, 2009 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Re: Hrmm

    Even then, relying 100% on Section 230 isn't always legally prudent.

    We don't rely 100% on Section 230, but it depends on the specifics of the complaint.

    Example, as Mike operates the website, writes the stories (which there is no 230 safe harbor for) and comments (which puts the 230 status of comments in doubt, as Techdirt would be liable for comments from themselves), it is a sort of tricky route to go down

    While it is correct that we are liable for the blog posts (which I've always made clear as well) and any comments made by myself, none of the threats have ever been about that. They have always been about comments from others. So, no, we are not liable for those and it is not a "sort of tricky route to go down." In fact, it's quite an easy and accurate route to go down. No court has found otherwise.

    Actually, this guy sued the right people, but should have also sued the "john doe" poster at the same time

    He could have sued the posters, but he made a mistake in suing the forum provider. There is simply no rationale for suing them -- especially considering the fact that he never complained about the posts in question.

    For justification, he would only have to get a sworn statement from the people who backed out that the comments on the website are what swayed their decision.

    Um, please. On what legal basis are you making that statement? This is almost entirely incorrect as a matter of law.

     

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  9.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 16th, 2009 @ 2:33pm

    Re: Hrmm

    Nice to have the resources you do. For most of the rest of us, that's like someone incurring an automatic fine (i.e., the expense of a lawyer) on command.

    Well, an individual can explain Section 230 to them as well. Not that hard. We work with lawyers so we have lawyers do it (more convincing generally).

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2009 @ 6:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Hrmm

    "Um, please. On what legal basis are you making that statement? This is almost entirely incorrect as a matter of law."

    First off, civil not criminal, start there. As a matter of law, the statement by the party that backed out would be an indication of harm caused. It's part of the process of proving the harm done by the comments, otherwise it is much harder to prove "harm".

    Now, if the comments themselves are not true or outright fabrications, standard slander / libel would apply and no third party material required to justify.

    "He could have sued the posters, but he made a mistake in suing the forum provider. There is simply no rationale for suing them -- especially considering the fact that he never complained about the posts in question."

    Again, he should have sued both - the forum provider being much more likely to cough up user data if they can get out of being the target of the lawsuit. Ask your lawyer friends (you seem to have many), it's the process where you sue everyone potentially involved and let them explain themselves out of the situation. Civil liability is again different from criminal liability.

    But hey, ask a laywer, don't ask me. I don't even play one on TV.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 5:42am

    They probably pulled out of the deal when they realized the guy is just another whack-job conspiracy nut. Frankly that's the first I've heard anyone speculate about Mossad involvement in 9/11, though I wonder how you could bring the twin towers down with a nuclear device without flattening half of Manhattan at the same time.

     

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  12.  
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    eclecticdave (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 5:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Hrmm

    > Again, he should have sued both - the forum provider being much more likely to cough up user data if they can get out of being the target of the lawsuit. Ask your lawyer friends (you seem to have many), it's the process where you sue everyone potentially involved and let them explain themselves out of the situation.

    So what you're suggesting is that it's OK to get lawyers to "lean" on someone in order to pressure them into doing things they are not legally obliged to do?

    Maybe that will get results in today's world - but do you *really* want to advocate that position?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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