Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Court finds website editor's comment on post does not remove CDA immunity

A federal court recently upheld the "robust" immunity of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in a case where the website's editor commented on a post referring to the plaintiff with rather crude language. S.C. v. Dirty World, LLC (W.D. Mo. 2012). The case concerned www.TheDirty.com where visitors are given the opportunity to post about a variety of topics. Many people use it to post about cheating significant others or former friends such as this one post about the plaintiff (edited for language and length):

This nasty b**** who was my `friend' started [deleted] my boyfriend in my bed and bringing her nasty a** horse teeth around my son trying to play house. This sl** claims to be a sweet little church girl. She even works for the church! Fugly sl**!
The post, which included a picture, was approved by the website without modification.

The CDA is popularly applied to websites such as newspapers with regard to the commenting feature on websites, immunizing the website for the content posted by visitors. "Courts ... have described CDA immunity as 'broad' and 'robust.'" However, there are situations where a provider will lose the immunity such as when they "are 'responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of'" a defamatory post.

Knowing that under traditional CDA application, no liability would have existed here, the plaintiff focused on the fact that the website chooses which submissions to publish and the editor often comments on the posts as to whether or not he is romantically interested in them. In this case, he responded by making an opinion about the plaintiff's appearance (the case didn't say what was written, but a typical response from the site is "No, her nose hangs like a banana and her calves are elongated.") The court didn't buy the argument, but noted that a statement like "Why are all church girls freaks in the sack?" might have crossed the line.


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