On Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued its decision in the Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment case, in which it reversed the lower court judge’s decision in favor of the former teacher and ex-Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader, Sarah Jones.  At trial, a jury awarded Jones $338,000 in damages before the operator of The Dirty.com, Hooman Karamian — better known as Nik Richie — appealed to the Sixth Circuit. Nik Richie, TheDirty.com Internet Defamation Case

This highly-publicized case involved the Communications Decency Act and whether the website was immune in relation to the content published about Jones on TheDirty.com. As we wrote about last month, the so-called “internet giants” including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter filed briefs with the court, concerned about online speech ramifications if the lower decision were upheld on appeal.

Thus, the decision by the Sixth Circuit was a win for more than just Richie and TheDirty.com, but also other “interactive” websites  such as the aforementioned “giants.”  Following the decision, Richie took to his Instagram account (see the image to the right), proclaiming that he “saved the internet.”

Despite the reversal, which legal experts anticipated, the Communications Decency Act is far from perfect.  In fact, this decision only highlights the problem we see with regards to the businesses and individuals harmed on various websites.

From a legal standpoint, I believe the Sixth Circuit correctly applied the Communications Decency Act, as it is written. However, this case is yet another illustration of why changes need to be made to the Communications Decency Act to protect victims of online reputation attacks. The way it is currently drafted, victims of online reputation attacks are often left without any recourse, any way to recover for their damages, and worse, without any way to even remove defamatory comments about them from the Internet.

Under this section, there is often no legal basis to get an injunction to remove defamatory comments from the website where those comments are posted. In fact, even if you get an injunction against the author to remove the posting, the author has no way to force a website to remove the postings, so the website can just keep the posting on its site. In other words, websites are free to determine what can and can’t remain on the their site, and the courts have no way to tell them to remove material from their website.

We have helped clients obtain court orders, which can be presented to search engines, as a matter of policy, to get defamatory content removed from search results. Some websites will also honor these court orders.  But because of the loophole in which a website cannot be forced to remove the offending content, businesses and individuals are often left without a true remedy in these situations.

This is especially problematic because the authors of online defamation often do not have the resources to compensate an injured business or individual for the damage they have caused by spreading false information on the Internet. Thus, victims of online defamation often can’t do anything to help themselves. Further, various websites take advantage of the extremely broad immunity afforded by the Communications Decency Act not only by refusing to remove defamatory postings or honor injunctions against the posters, but also by turning their power into a profit center by charging people money to have the content removed.

At the end of the day, the Communications Decency Act has left websites with the ability to charge victims money to remove defamatory information from the Internet, and render the courts powerless to issue an order that will remove the defamatory material. The law needs to be changed.

For more information, contact Whitney Gibson at 855.542.9192 or wcgibson@vorys.com. Read more about the practice at http://www.defamationremovalattorneys.com, or follow Whitney on Twitter at @WhitneyCGibson.