Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GoDaddy is immune from defamation suit under Communications Decency Act

This is a case for the modern age. Plaintiff was defamed in a union newsletter after he refused to endorse a union president in 2002. After plaintiff was blackballed from jobs for years, in 2012, the newsletters containing the defamatory statements were posted online, hosted by GoDaddy's web servers. Since GoDaddy did not create the newsletters, can plaintiff sue that entity for defamation?

The case is Smith v. Teamsters Union Local 456, decided on March 18. GoDaddy cannot be sued for the defamation under the Communication Decency Act of 1996, which says that providers or users of interactive computer services are not treated as the publisher or speaker of any information "provided by another information content provider."

The public has been using the Internet for about 20 years, but the Second Circuit has yet to hear a case like this. Summarizing the case law from elsewhere, the Court says, "In short, a plaintiff defamed on the internet can sue the original speaker, but typically 'cannot sue the messenger." Other courts have applied the CDA to a growing list of Internet service providers, including GoDaddy. The Court of Appeals (Jacobs, Lohier and Swain [D.J.]) "join[s] the consensus." The Court reasons:

The Riccis allege only that GoDaddy “refused to remove” from its web servers an allegedly defamatory newsletter that was authored by another. These allegations do not withstand the Communications Decency Act, which shields GoDaddy from publisher liability (with respect to web content provided by others) in its capacity as a provider of an interactive computer service.

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