Although there are laws in place to prevent entities and citizens from harmful comments, such laws have to tread carefully to avoid stepping on the toes of the First Amendment to our constitution. The line got even thinner when the Internet was developed. Now people are free to broadcast their opinions all over the world with a relative amount of anonymity. The combination tends to make people freer about stating their thoughts, but if they’re not careful, those people might find themselves facing a lawsuit for defamation.
Sarah Jones, a former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals, has also worked as a teacher at Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood, Kentucky. At the end of 2009, a user of TheDirty.com posted a photo on the website of Jones with a man and made offensive comments about Jones’s sex life, and the sex life of her partner. Jones repeatedly asked for the posts be removed, and Nik Richie, the owner of the website, refused. Jones responded by filing a lawsuit for defamation against the company that operates the gossip site, Dirty World, LLC, and Richie. The lawsuit alleged that the posts humiliated Jones, undermined her position as an educator, her membership in the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader squad, and her personal life.
The content posted on TheDirty.com is never created by Richie, but submitted by third parties. Richie then reviews and publishes the submissions with his own comments. Richie and his attorney cited this as a basis for Richie’s immunity under the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA).
The federal court disagreed, stating that “a website owner who intentionally encourages illegal or actionable third-party postings to which he adds his own comments ratifying or adopting the posts becomes a ‘creator’ or ‘developer’ of that content and is not entitled to immunity.” As a result, the court concluded that Richie and Dirty World, “when they republished the matters in evidence, had the same duties and liabilities for republishing libelous material as the author of such materials.” The court therefore awarded Jones $338,000 to compensate her for the libel.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed that decision, though, finding that, because third parties posted the defamatory comments, Richie is protected from liability under the CDA. In its opinion, the Court stated that Richie does not produce any of the content that gets posted onto TheDirty.com. Instead, he merely scans the submissions to make sure that nudity, obscenity, threats of violence, profanity, and racial slurs are removed. He usually adds a short, one-line comment about the post, but he never makes any material changes to the submission, “nor does he fact-check submissions for accuracy.”
According to the CDA, “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Chris Roach, who is representing Jones in the legal dispute, says that they will be appealing the decision and hope to face Richie and Dirty World in the Supreme Court. Regarding the circuit court’s ruling, Roach said that it constitutes a “green light to do anything that’s technically illegal on the Internet.”
Our Chicago libel attorneys concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.
Our Chicago defamation lawyers defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Schaumburg, and Palatine, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.
Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of a century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.
Lubin Austermuehle’s Wheaton and Carol Stream defamation and libel attorneys have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Lisle and Lombard, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.
If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.