The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard arguments in Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, LLC (No. 13-5946), seeking to overturn a verdict for Jones in the district court. Sarah Jones is a former Bengals cheerleader. She was unhappy with comments posted on the website thedirty.com about her sexual activities. She filed suit in 2009, and last year she was awarded $338,000 in damages.
Professor Goldman pointed out that, whatever one might think of the particular website, the legal principles involved are generalizable to a large number of Internet sites. Nik Ritchie, who operates the website, selects which comments are allowed to go onto the site, and he sometimes adds comments of his own. As Prof. Goldman explained, Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act in 1996 exempting websites from liability for comments posted by third parties. One major issue on appeal is that the trial judge told the jury in instructions that they could hold Ritchie liable for third-party comments.
Analyzing the questions by the Court of Appeals, Prof. Goldman suggests that the court believes the trial judge made a mistake. In that event, the case might be reversed and remanded for a new trial or reversed outright, if the appellate court decides that no recovery at trial would be possible. If Jones should prevail on appeal, it is not entirely clear what the impact would be on other, similar websites.
Eric Goldman Eric Goldman is a Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law, where he is also Director of the school’s High Tech Law Institute. His research and teaching focuses on Internet law, intellectual property and marketing law. The Legal Broadcast Network, provides online, on-demand, legal video content, provided by attorneys, law professors and others from around the world. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.