The Sixth Circuit will decide an issue of major importance under the First Amendment arising out of the case of former Cincinnati Bengal’s Cheerleader, Sarah Jones. Jones was awarded a verdict of $ 338, 000 in her suit against a website called TheDirt.com. Jones prevailed in her lawsuit under the Communication and Decency Act and alleged that the website permitted defamatory posts about her. Fox News as well as other media outlets have reported on the story.
Key to her prevailing in the lawsuit is that the website itself responded to comments and tried to stir further defamatory comments about Jones on the website. For further commentary on this story, The USA Today posted an Article from Amber Hunt of the Cincinnati Enquirer, describing the lawsuit.
Lawsuit Seen as Creating a Dangerous Precedent
The lawsuit has attracted the interest of Google, Microsoft, FaceBook and Amazon, who see this lawsuit as potentially chilling Free Speech on the internet. The law grants websites immunity from liability from content created by others. The cases raises the issue of whether the website maker, Nik Richie, is entitled to that immunity or whether he should be denied that immunity because he instigated the posting of defamatory content.
I would expect the verdict to stand as the website was not sued for merely permitting other individuals to post defamatory comment, but actively participating in the conversation and instigating further comments. Web Companies such as Google fear that the suit would permit liability based on comments of users, but it appears that the basis of Jones prevailing was the specific conduct of the sites host and not merely passive actively or providing a platform for Free Speech.