When Suing A Website For Libel, It Helps To Actually Sue The Right One
from the thedirt-vs.-thedirty dept
Last week, a story caught my eye, about a website being ordered to pay $11 million for failing to respond to a lawsuit claiming libel. The story caught my attention for a few reasons: first, I’m always interested in libel lawsuits involving blogs and second… the name of the site that was sued was TheDirt.com, which… er… seemed close enough to Techdirt.com that I had to pause for a second and make sure it wasn’t us. Anyway, after all that, it didn’t seem like the ruling was interesting enough for a post… until some other details came out.
The lawsuit itself came from a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader/high school English teacher named Sarah Jones, who was upset that the site in question apparently posted a picture of her and reported that she had an affair with a player and had contracted two venereal diseases. Assuming there’s no truth to the rumors, it sounded like a straightforward libel case — though from all the reporting, it’s not clear if the site owners themselves wrote the content, or if it was written by a user — in which case the site might have Section 230 protections (potentially depending on how involved they were in encouraging such content).
So why is the case suddenly interesting? Well, perhaps because it now appears that Ms. Jones’ lawyers sued the wrong company. Oops. The lawsuit was filed against Los Angeles-based Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, which runs the website TheDirt.com. Problem is that the site that contained the content in question was TheDirty.com, and that’s run by a Scottsdale-based company called Dirty World LLC who had no indication that there was a lawsuit going on at all. Oops indeed. At least no one sued us.
Amusingly, the folks at TheDirt.com are amusingly asking if they should sue for libel right back, considering all the press coverage claiming (falsely) that they had libeled Ms. Jones. Oh, and as for TheDirty.com, it’s also asking the AP for an apology for falsely reporting that it had lost the lawsuit when it hadn’t even been served. Quite a dirty mess. Separately, I have to imagine that Jones’ lawyer, Eric Deters, now regrets his statement to the AP:
“If they would have just taken it down, this all would have been over,” Deters said. “They just kind of mocked the whole court system.”
Might have helped if you sued the right company.