See the update at the end of this post where a search engine analyst says TheDirty.com case “could have major implications on how public forums post user submitted content in the future.”
ORIGINAL POST, JULY 12, 8 A.M.: Remember how Nik Richie, the apparently onetime Newport Beach resident who runs TheDirty.com, was slapped with a defamation lawsuit for “slutshaming” an ex-Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader and former teacher convicted of illegal sex with a student?
She won and the jury in Kentucky awarded her $338,000 in damages Thursday.
We've been keeping tabs on the case since a mistrial was declared in January.
Sarah Jones sued Richie in Kentucky federal court over anonymous, third-party posts left about her on his controversial website The Dirty, which routinely praises/chides scenesters/wannabes through pages zoned to specific cities, including Newport Beach.
Jones, who pleaded guilty in October to having sex with a then-17-year-old student in Kentucky she is still seeing, sued Richie (real name: Hooman Karamian) over a photo of her on The Dirty that showed her smiling with a former Bengals kicker. The caption someone posted anonymously claimed she had sex with every member of the NFL team. The second disputed post had a shot of her in a bikini for a Bengals calendar with the cutline, again written by an unknown, claiming she likely contracted chlamydia and gonorrhea from her ex-husband, who'd cheated on her with more than 50 women.
These, the suit claimed, caused Jones to suffer emotional distress and harmed her job performance.
Richie countered he is protected by federal law that does not make a website operator responsible for what others post on the sites, and a previous jury in federal court in Covington, Kentucky, agreed unanimously that he did not act with malice, which would have shut Jones out from collecting damages from him. But the same jury voted 8-2 in Richie's favor over the posts being false, so with no unanimous ruling the judge declared a mistrial, setting up this week's stunning change for fortunes for Jones.
This jury of eight women and two men found both that the posts were substantially false and that Richie acted with malice or reckless disregard.
No matter what one thinks of The Dirty, it is a chilling decision for anyone that hosts a website featuring lively reader comments. Hopes would thus be high for an appeal.
UPDATE, JULY 15, 12:13 P.M.: The Dirty case “could have major implications on how public forums post user submitted content in the future,” according to a search engine analyst.
“The case has importance to the reputation management industry because it was the first time a judge had not accepted the Communication Decency Act (CDA) as a defense,” Pierre Zarokian writes on Search Engine Watch. “The CDA protects sites, such as forums that accept user-generated content, from liability.”
Actually, some legal eagles see no weight being given to the CDA as an opening to a probable appeal of the jury finding in favor of Sarah Jones. But Zarokian notes The Dirty has one disadvantage over other sites that include comments from third parties: founder Nik Richie.
That is, Richie routinely comments himself on the photos and musings people post on The Dirty, which could be construed as “management” of these third-party comments.
“The success of this lawsuit is going to open a flood of new lawsuits against The Dirty and other sites like it that host third-party content,” Zarokian predicts. “It is likely that such sites are going to take removal requests more seriously in order to avoid costly lawsuits.”