Communications Decency Act Still Unknown to Many Attorneys
It seems like every few weeks I have to rail against a lawsuit I read about, wherein the attorney representing the plaintiff brings an action that is clearly barred by the Communications Decency Act. In this latest installment, we find a New York attorney who represents plaintiffs who appear to have a solid case against some individual defendants resulting from some truly horrific defamation on the Internet.
But the attorney could not leave it alone. I can almost see his mind working. He thinks to himself, “these individuals will never be able to pay the judgment, so I’d better look around for some deep pockets.” So, in addition to the individual defendants he names ning.com, wordpress.com, twitter.com, and my personal favorite, godaddy.com.
I sometimes use the analogy that naming a Internet Service Provider in an Internet defamation action is akin to naming Microsoft as a defendant because the defamer used Word to type the defamatory statements. I never thought any attorney would actually go that far, but the attorney in this case surpasses even that far flung analogy. I know it’s a foreign concept to some attorneys and their clients, but a defendant should only be held liable for damages if he, she or it has done something wrong. Here, twitter.com is named because the defendants sent out “tweets” sending their followers to the defamatory content. Godaddy.com is named because the defendants obtained the domain name there, and then set it to forward to their blog on wordpress.com. How could these companies possibly be liable? Well, according to plaintiffs and their attorney, they are liable because what the defendants did amounted to an “irresponsible use of technology.”
Apparently, in this attorney’s world, we have gone beyond even requiring that the website provider check the content of every web page posted on its server. Now it is also the obligation of twitter.com to review and authorize every tweet that is sent, and godaddy.com must view with suspicion every account that sets a domain name to forward elsewhere. Clearly there could be no Internet if such duty and liability could be imposed.
In (very slight) defense of the attorney, he does allege that these companies were informed of the nefarious use of their services, and did nothing to block the content. Among the public there is an urban legend that a company becomes liable once it is informed that it is being used to distribute the defamatory content, but an attorney should know better.