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Site Told To Pay $338k Because Of Someone Else's Comments

from the that's-not-right dept

We've written a few times about former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader/former school teacher Sarah Jones' ridiculous lawsuit against TheDirty.com, because one of its users had posted some claims that were potentially defamatory towards her. The case has been something of a mess. As we noted a few years ago, she sued the wrong company, filing the actual lawsuit against the company which runs TheDirt.com (not TheDirty.com). Eventually that got sorted out, and what should have been a straight quick dismissal because of Section 230 of the CDA (which says a site is not liable for statements made by users) was muddled because a judge didn't seem to like the website. The judge flat out claims that if a site has "dirt" in its name, it may not be subject to Section 230 protections. And that's kinda scary for those of us here at Techdirt.
First, the name of the site in and of itself encourages the posting only of “dirt,” that is material which is potentially defamatory or an invasion of the subject’s privacy.
Of course, having allowed the case to move forward and flat out contradicted pretty much every ruling on Section 230 to date, the jury has now said the site needs to pay $338,000. The lawyer for TheDirty.com is actually happy about this, because he can finally get the case out of that judge's court and bring it to an appeals court which might actually understand Section 230.
“I’m happy,” says David Gingras, lawyer for the TheDirty.com. “We have spent three and a half years litigating against a federal judge who thinks the Internet is an Atari video game. To have an adverse judgment is never a good thing, but it’s good for us to get out of that court.”
Of course, Kash Hill, at Forbes, also points out that Jones -- who claims her reputation was harmed by the claims on TheDirty.com -- seems to have done some damage to her own reputation, well beyond just suing the wrong site:
The three and a half years since the case was filed have been drama-filled. Jones originally sued the wrong site. She then amended her complaint to sue the right site, but had to take time off for her own criminal suit after she was charged with having sex with a minor. Her first trial against The Dirty ended in a hung jury. Meanwhile, she got engaged to the minor, a former student of hers. Needless to say, she is no longer teaching. Richie was happy to point out on his blog (repeatedly) that Jones ruined her own reputation in the years after his site published a warning about her.
Hopefully, we won't get sued for reposting that comment. After all, we are a website with "dirt" in the domain name.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 3:30pm

    Quick, register techponies.com and change your name!

     

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

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 3:49pm

    Alternatively, register techdirty.com to increase the chances of getting in on the action.

     

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

  3.  
    icon
    Trelly (profile), Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:02pm

    New, Improve, TechUltraClean with added whitener -- Good for your Teeth and Whitewalls!

     

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

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:04pm

    'First, the name of the site in and of itself encourages the posting only of “dirt,” that is material which is potentially defamatory or an invasion of the subject’s privacy.'


    Bah! A website's domain name is not necessarily indicative of its purpose, and even if the website's purpose is to spread "dirt" on people it does not necessarily mean its purpose is to spread defamatory statements or violate a subject's right to privacy (which is not absolute).

     

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

  5.  
    icon
    OldCurmudgeon (profile), Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:09pm

    SlashDirt?

    WooHoo!!! Opportunity for a site called SlashDirt anyone?

     

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

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:12pm

    What If...

    there were a website named defamation.com? Would this judge think that everything posted was defamatory?

    Or libel.com

    Or slander.com

    Or federaljudgesinahurry.com

    Or showmybias.com

    Talk about morons in a hurry, how do these people get appointed?

     

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

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:31pm

    What is the qualifications to become a judge exactly?

    Do I have to get the banana down with the stick to qualify or could I just stand on the chair?

     

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

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:35pm

    Re:

    *are even

     

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

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:39pm

    Question still must be asked why didn't she go to jail for having sex with a minor, when everyone else does?

     

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

  10.  
    identicon
    Guardian, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 4:49pm

    i think stpudpeople.com is taken

    nuff said.

     

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

  11. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 5:37pm

    After two hours, first on-topic and substantive post:

    Looking past the stumbles and distracting bits: Section 230 isn't the absolute shield from common law and common decency that you believe it to be, Mike. Your notions have been proven wrong in court, yet again.

    "The jury of eight women and two men also found website operator Nik Richie acted with malice or reckless disregard in posting the submissions he said were anonymous." -- Even WITH the obvious problems, appears that the jury were dull moralists like me who believe that law is for protecting individuals, not shielding a business which gets money by peddling dirt.

    And the notion that conviction by jury makes an attorney happy is a lie: an appeal won't automatically succeed now that the facts have been decided.

     

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

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 6:46pm

    Re:

    Techshit.com

    The judge will rule that the site is full of shit making it immune to defamation law suits.

     

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

  13.  
    identicon
    horse with no name, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 6:48pm

    The issue here is that the site may cross the line from being "innocent host" to "active partner" in getting the dirt. The structure and attitude of the site is such that it encourages people to literally make dirt up. The judge was able to see that this wasn't a random post on a neutral site (say like a wordpress blog), but rather a nasty attack piece on a site that encourages people to do so.

    It's the difference I guess between selling a gun and telling the buyer to go shoot someone.

     

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

  14.  
    icon
    JMT (profile), Jul 12th, 2013 @ 7:03pm

    "Your notions have been proven wrong in court, yet again."

    So one court case apparently proves Mike wrong, but the dozens of similar cases that went the other way don't prove Mike right? Way to pick and choose like the intellectual giant you aren't...

     

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

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 7:39pm

    Mike, you know you are nothing but a mud slinger. Your website even has dirt in its name to prove it.

     

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

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 8:21pm

    Re: After two hours, first on-topic and substantive post:

    Oh, out_of_the_ass. How deeply you wish you could get Techdirt shut down because of your comments. It's such a shame that wet dream will never come to fruition.

     

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

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2013 @ 8:34pm

    Re: After two hours, first on-topic and substantive post:

    Section 230 is powerful, but even power must yield in certain circumstances, and a website operator's active participation in the presentation of commentary, both third party and personal, is not calculated to be on the good side of Section 230's power curve. Quite the opposite.

    Mr. Masnick places much faith in Mr. Goldman's analysis of Section 230; perhaps too much as disconnects do arise between those whose primary focus is on academia and those whose primary focus is on the day to day practice of law. Maybe Mr. Goldman's view will ultimately carry the day on appeal, but at this juncture there are numerous differences between this case and those where 230 was successfully applied, and it is because of these differences that I am inclined to be more circumspect in predicting an outcome.

     

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

  18.  
    icon
    R.H. (profile), Jul 12th, 2013 @ 8:37pm

    Re:

    The minor was above the age of consent but still a student of hers. That makes it potentially illegal depending on the state but not always if said teacher didn't have a direct position of authority over that student (i.e. didn't have the student in any classes). Long story short, it's complicated.

     

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

  19.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jul 12th, 2013 @ 11:26pm

    Re:

    You expected intellectual honesty and a lack of hypocrisy?

     

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

  20.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jul 13th, 2013 @ 12:55am

    Re:

    Well see all those other cases were just 'anomalies', and can therefor be ignored, but this one blue agrees with, which makes it not an anomaly, and therefor valid. /s

     

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

  21.  
    icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Jul 13th, 2013 @ 4:11am

    Re: Re:

    number one 'qualification': that you agree the current inequitable system is equitable and that nothing needs to change...
    voila, you're a judge...

    kind of like how juries are automagically stacked for the persecutor and against the defendant: you don't believe in the death penalty, off the jury; believe in jury nullification, off the jury; believe the law is an ass, off the jury...
    the people who would stand up against injustices are systematically removed from any consideration, and all you have left are authoritarians who will do whatever the judge/persecution say...
    doesn't make it fair, but makes it easier to enforce the system upon all us poor schmucks...

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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

  22.  
    icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Jul 13th, 2013 @ 4:13am

    Re:

    so, um, you're suggesting 'techmud' ? ? ?
    i like it ! ! !

     

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

  23.  
    identicon
    anonymouse, Jul 14th, 2013 @ 2:09pm

    Re: Re:

    Dang, so my daughter is safe if no teachers at her school bother her, as long as they do not tech her, sorry but a pedophile is a pedophile and having sex with a minor or even with a student in your school should always be a crime, what is to bet this is in one of the southern states where religion is used to protect the evil amongst us.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Jul 14th, 2013 @ 6:28pm

    Re:

    Well...not everyone. ;)

     

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

  25.  
    identicon
    Grammar Nazi - Heiling Grammartien since September, Jul 14th, 2013 @ 7:14pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Dang, so my daughter is safe if no teachers at her school bother her, as long as they do not tech her, sorry but a pedophile is a pedophile and having sex with a minor or even with a student in your school should always be a crime, what is to bet this is in one of the southern states where religion is used to protect the evil amongst us.

    A full stop, also known as a period, is commonly used in grammatically-correct statements to indicate the end of a sentence.

     

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

  26.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_ass, Jul 14th, 2013 @ 7:15pm

    Re: Re: After two hours, first on-topic and substantive post:

    Hey man, that's not cool :c

     

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

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2013 @ 10:41pm

    Re:

    That would explain why you're here, then.

     

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


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