The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned a $338,000 jury award for Sarah Jones, a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader who sued Arizona-based gossip website, The Dirty, for anonymous comments saying she had slept with numerous players and as a result, contracted sexually transmitted diseases. The court held on Monday that The Dirty, a gossip website founded in 2007 by Nik Richie, the self-proclaimed world’s first ever reality blogger, did not develop or create the content and thus, the site and its founder, are immune from the lawsuit brought by Jones. At the district court level, jurors had awarded Jones $38,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages, stemming from her defamation lawsuit against Dirty World LLC and Richie, who subsequently appealed.
According to the Court, the vast majority of content posted to www.thedirty.com is directly uploaded by third-party users, as distinct from Richie or any of his staff. The Court of Appeals held that Richie chooses items to post from the submissions, makes some deletions, but makes no material changes to the content, and thus, cannot be held liable, thereby reversing the earlier ruling that the Appeals Court said would have chilled online speech. In its decision, which has been closely monitored by tech giants like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc., the appeals court held that TheDirty.com was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields interactive computer services from liability for hosting third-party-generated content. The appeals court noted, however, that Jones could file defamation claims against the authors of the comments that were posted on the website.
Jones, who worked as a cheerleader for the National Football League in 2009, said the allegations that were made against her on The Dirty were false. She claims to have asked Richie to take down the postings, and when he refused, she sued him and the site for defamation. Her attorney, Chris Roach, said on Monday that Jones is planning to appeal the Court’s ruling, which means filing for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Richie’s attorney, David Gingras, said the decision was in line with that of other courts and was “a lot of relief.” He also said the site and Richie did not cross the line into creation or development of illegal content. “You can’t sue Mark Zuckerberg because you don’t like a post on Facebook, that’s just how it is,” Gingras said.