Former Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones has lost her defamation case against a gossip website on which an anonymous user posted that she’d had sex with half of the football team’s players and had contracted sexually transmitted diseases.
A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel overturned an earlier verdict in Jones’ favor, saying that while Jones was definitely “the object of defamatory content,” neither the website, TheDirty.com, nor its operator, Nik Richie, are responsible for the third-party posting. Jones last year had been awarded $338,000 by the lower court.
The case had been closely watched by tech companies and First Amendment lawyers. Some 30 companies, including Google, eBay, Facebook and Amazon, had filed a joint brief in support of Richie, saying that he should be immune from prosecution under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, or CDA. That statute protects website operators from being liable for content posted by third parties.
“It’s disappointing,” said Chris Roach, Jones’ lawyer. “We were really hoping it would be Nik Richie who would be (taking the case) to the Supreme Court, but we’ll be doing it instead.”
Richie posted on his Twitter account an image of the court filing with the message, “I saved the internet today. Your freedom continues.”
His lawyer, David Gingras, said he’s happy with the ruling, though he had looked forward to going to the Supreme Court with the case. If Roach does file a writ of certiorari to ask the higher court to review the case, Gingras said he’d join the filing.
“I think it’s the right decision,” said Jack Greiner, a lawyer who represents The Enquirer. “If this had been upheld, it would have undermined the statute and allowed cases to get to juries that just shouldn’t get to juries. If people don’t like the CDA, then Congress should amend it, but the courts are obligated to apply it as written.”