Ever since the invention of the internet, it has been wreaking havoc on our Constitution’s First Amendment. People say hurtful and insulting things, particularly about people in the media, without ever considering the consequences of their words. This is especially true when people are able to make these statements anonymously. Frequently, there are no consequences but countless defamation lawsuits have been filed over things that have been said online and the decisions reached by the court are usually hotly debated. Another such case has recently emerged from a federal court in Covington, Kentucky.
The case involves Sarah Jones, a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader, and Nik Richie, the operator of thedirty.com, a gossip website. The jury found that posts about Jones on the website were substantially false. Additionally, the jury found that Nik Richie acted with malice or reckless disregard when he posted anonymous submissions to his website.
One such post claimed that Jones had sex with every Bengal player. Another said that she probably had two sexually transmitted diseases. In her lawsuit, Jones said that these comments were false and caused her severe mental anguish.
In his defense, Richie denied any malice in posting the comments and maintained that he was not required to fact-check anonymous submissions before posting them. David Gingras, Richie’s defense attorney, argued that Richie’s website and others like it are protected by the Communications Decency Act. That law was created in part to provide protection to website operators like Richie from liability for content which is originated by third parties.
Eric Deters, the attorney representing Jones, argued that Richie acknowledged that he screens submissions and decides which comments to post and he adds his own comments. This fact separates his website from others such as Facebook where people post their own comments without any sort of regulation.
The judge maintained that the Communications Decency Act does not protect thedirty.com in this case. The jury sided with Jones and awarded her $338,000 in damages.
As with many cases, the decision of this court could have far-reaching consequences. “I think it could put some limits on the ability of a website operator to feel free to post comments that might be offensive or controversial or even just critical,” said Jack Greiner, who specializes in media and free speech issues. “People might err on the side of caution and not take a risk, even if comments are acceptable.”
The decision reached by the judge has been highly contested. Gingras, who has won similar lawsuits, has said that, “There’s no question that his ruling is wrong”.
Nate Cardozo is a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit foundation which focuses on civil liberties and privacy issues in the digital age. He agrees with Gingras and said that the judge “got it dead wrong”. According to Cardozo, Jones could sue over the false statements, but “she can only sue the person who made the statements”. That becomes difficult however, when comments are posted anonymously, as is the case here.
Deters is happy with the verdict, saying he hopes that it will “reduce the number of defamation comments made on these types of websites.” Richie plans to appeal the ruling.
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 Evanston and Burr Ridge, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and off line 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 attorneys 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 century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business law suits 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 Naperville litigation 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 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 Aurora and Rock Island, 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 on line 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.