Apparently, If Your Domain Has 'Dirt' In The Name, Section 230 Safe Harbors Don't Apply (Uh Oh…)

from the hey,-wait-a-second... dept

Back in 2010, we wrote about an attempt to sue the website for libel… in which the lawyer for the site accidentally sued a different site, called This resulted in some hilarity with a bogus default judgment and plenty of confusion. We joked how, given the similarities in the names of those sites to Techdirt, perhaps we should be happy that we weren’t sued as well. However, once all the mistakes were realized, the case did shift to actually suing’s owner. TheDirty is (1) not safe for work and (2) not a particularly nice site. It mostly involves user submissions of pictures of women, along with generally mean commentary from the user — and then maybe a short comment from the site’s owner. It is a mean site, and the site’s owner and readers seem to embrace that, even if it’s exceptionally petty.

The specific lawsuit involved a Bengals cheerleader/school teacher, who wasn’t happy with the pictures of her posted to the website… along with the comments made about her (such as suggesting she had slept with the entire football team). As we noted at the time, if this content is user generated — it’s a clear situation where the case should be dismissed over Section 230’s safe harbors (which put the liability on the actual content creator, rather than the middlemen third parties). In this case, the actions that might reach the level of defamation clearly came from the user, not the site owner. Previous rulings in other districts have even made it clear that sites that merely pass along content created by someone else — even if it involves a moderator “choosing” what gets displayed — do not lose the basic protections. So this case should have been a slam dunk.

Instead… it appears that the judge has gone in the other direction, creating really convoluted arguments to claim that Section 230 does not apply. As Eric Goldman explains, there are serious problems with this ruling:

The court’s discussion is short, yet it’s surprisingly scattered. Pages 8-10 run through a gamut of gripes about thedirty’s practices and statements, but the judge doesn’t articulate the relevance of these facts (other than providing evidence of the judge’s animus towards thedirty). Because the judge does a poor job connecting the facts to his adopted legal standard, we aren’t sure exactly what thedirty did to foreclose the 230 immunity

The ruling, which is attached below, really is that bizarre. The judge twists and turns himself into contortions to try to come up with a reason to say that is liable for comments made on the site. The simplest explanation, as Eric noted, is that the judge just didn’t like the kind of site that is (and from a quick glance, remains). The key to the judge’s ruling is in trying to apply the infamous case. The problem, however, is that the case doesn’t fit well. lost not because the site encouraged some actions against the law, but because its menu choices were a part of the content creation, and those menu choices, themselves, directly violated the Fair Housing Act.

It’s a huge stretch to go from there to claiming that a site where mean things are celebrated is no longer protected via Section 230’s safe harbors. But that’s what the judge did.

And, in part, it gets really scary for me, personally, because the judge declares — multiple times — that the use of the word “dirt” in a domain name means that you are encouraging defamation:

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, there’s absolutely nothing in Section 230 that suggests that if a judge doesn’t like your name — or falsely assumes that any website with the word “dirt” in the name is up to no good — he can ignore Section 230’s important protections. Like Eric suggested, it would be good if there’s an appeal here, because it seems to go against pretty much any other Section 230 ruling. Not liking a site is simply not a reason to ignore those important safe harbors…

And, just to summarize, here are the basics. The site, posted a user submission, with a one-sentence comment on it. That submission included a cheerleader/teacher, who didn’t like her photos being widely available. Somewhere along the way the legal shenanigans began. Remember, the contents of the post itself may be defamatory — but that, alone, should not make the site liable. It could very well make the original submitter liable, but the cheerleader doesn’t seem to want to go that route of actually suing those who did the bad thing. So, instead, the site now faces a lot of liability… because a judge thinks that having “dirt” in your domain name must mean that you’re seeking out something bad.

For reasons beyond just the standard defenses of Section 230, this is pretty bizarre and slightly terrifying. I certainly don’t encourage the submission of defamatory information. But because I have “dirt” in my domain name, does that mean I should be worried too?

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Comments on “Apparently, If Your Domain Has 'Dirt' In The Name, Section 230 Safe Harbors Don't Apply (Uh Oh…)”

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Overcast (profile) says:

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.

And so that doesn’t apply to ‘’ how then? Shouldn’t that apply to both domain names? lol

What ‘logic’..

I’m also curious about this then…

The judge twists and turns himself into contortions to try to come up with a reason to say that is liable for comments made on the site.

What if.. instead of on a web site, someone *in court* said – on public record the *exact* same thing as this commenter on the web – would the court itself be liable as well then, for libel?

Violated (profile) says:

TECH site to throw DIRT on ???

I believe this decision relates to MegaUpload.

Both follow DMCA law AFAIK but both have been seen bad (copyright or libel) and their safe harbour status to protect from what users do ignored.

I don’t think you can take anything from the domain name alone even if you register like and upload photos of women. That is not approval for unlawful acts when it could also be viewed in more lawful ways.

Well clearly that site is one making fun of women and insulting them but I doubt many who visit there would take much of what is said seriously. Clearly people are responsible for what they say and not the site owner.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the point many people are (deliberately?) missing is that the site deliberately incites defamation. I doubt that a site that isn’t created and maintained for the sole purpose of inciting defamation has anything to worry about in this case. I get the point about the site name, but all that means is that the judge should have stayed focused on the site owner’s deliberate incitement of defamation, which should be sufficient to rule against him, instead of mentioning the site name at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think the point many people are (deliberately?) missing

Nobody is missing anything – except perhaps you.

the site deliberately incites defamation

Please show where the CDA states that section 230 immunity provisions are invalid if the side “deliberately incites defamation”.

In fact, please show the text of the CDA that mentions “deliberately inciting defamation” at all.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But the Judge saw TheDirty’s 2nd appearance on Dr. Phil and knew that it was all the websites fault. They made her take the picture of herself, they made her run to everyone who would listen to increase the coverage of her being posted there, they made her act like she was innocent and knew nothing about her behavior.

At the AC above me, an affirmative defense to defamation is truth is it not?
Maybe if they spent more time behaving in the manner they claim they actually do and less doing actions that show them in questionable light and then spend time trying to hide those acts after the fact.

Under this awesome ruling from the Judge shall we now pursue a case against –

I don’t have to agree with what you say, but I should defend your right to say it. Nik did not make the initial post and merely provides the platform… so this is different than suing the deepest pockets for a payday rather than suing the person responsible?

Oh noes people said mean things about me in the interwebs my entire world is destroyed! Really? If you think a future employer is using TheDirty as the basis for hiring you, you might be in the wrong business.

ProTip: No one can put you down without your permission.

When trying to “defend” your name, turning the post into a giant circus and focusing more attention on it might be the wrong play.

Anonymous Coward says:


What is the mechanism being used to make those decisions?

Copyright, it is a useful tool for censorship of any kind bad and good, if we can’t learn to take the bad with the good we don’t deserve to be free, there is a price to pay for liberty and democracy and for some that price apparently is not worth paying anymore.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

its not defamation if its true…

Lamar Smith is a brainless idiot.
This could be defamation lacking a flatline EEG.
It is however my opinion of the person, and is protected speech.

Lamar Smith is out to destroy the internet.
This is fact, supported by his actions.

Lamar Smith will not answer the allegations he has done horrible things to ponies.
This could be defamation indirectly, but a factually accurate statement.

Lamar Smith did Hollywoods bidding very cheap, does this make him the Walmart of Political Influence?
Again treading on the line, but factually accurate that he supported the proposal from the MPAA while getting less donations than other Congress members.

Lamar Smith doesn’t use bookmarks, he just liked to bend over pages.
And now we come to tap dancing on the fine fine line… the statement is not defamation as the connotation in the readers head creates or misses the punchline.

Lamar Smith is a dirty politician.
Lacking any factual basis to support the statement, this would be defamation.

These are all hypothetical examples to illustrate a point, and now I hope you find yourself better informed.

f0nZi3 (profile) says:

WTF are they teaching in law school?

Let’s face it, judges are failed lawyers. Couldn’t make in in the private sector so they run for public office.

I just wonder what class taught them that if they don’t like the letter of the law (or even the spirit of the law), they can and should use their own bias and personal opinion to come to a summary judgement.

This nation needs an enema.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Where did you see the child rape accusation?
It seems like this case is based on 2 posts about her to the dirty.

She was concerned about how it might possibly affect her job, ignoring the obvious answer of questioning the person who followed the dirty enough to notice her and bring it up.

The current lawsuit seems to be focused only on getting money from the deep pockets, because the lawyer turned down a chance to get the information on the people who actually posted the original comments.

“Deters and Jones hope to find out who sent the photo and information about Jones to Karamian in the first place. ?You don?t get to hide behind fake names for slander and libel,? said Deter. Deters says the representative offered to give them that information if they dropped the case, but he declined.”

This is the downside of seeking celebrity, and people should consider the downside… people will always want to take you down a peg. We shouldn’t reward them for that.

bob says:

…only goes to show that if masnick would just bow to Big Search, Big Content and Big Media, his pathetic little blog might get some attention.

It’s really a shame that masnick and all of his pathetic little sycophants can’t make a difference, so they just baaah baaah baaah to get their voices heard, and then pretend that they make a difference.

Quit pretending that you represent the voice of ‘the internet’ or ‘the people’ and admit that you advocate piracy.


That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

reading… is fundamental…
you on the other hand appear to be just mental.

is this what happens after you’ve been out all night drinking and instead of drunk dialing you drunk post?

Or is this a really lame entry trying to win funny?

-2/10 if your rant can’t even be loosely tied to the thread just stop… otherwise its just like your…. A PAYWALL!

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