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Court upholds dismissal of suit over Web site postings

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  1. Libel and Privacy
Sep. 28, 2007  ·   A federal court of appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) upheld the dismissal of a defamation…

Sep. 28, 2007  ·   A federal court of appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) upheld the dismissal of a defamation claim against a Web site owner, confirming that site owners cannot be held liable for statements made on a site by its users.

Anthony DiMeo III, president and founder of RENAMITY Public Relations & Special Events, sued blogger Tucker Max in May 2006 for disparaging statements made by visitors to Max’s Web site, DiMeo’s publicity firm organized a New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia that ran out of food and drinks long before midnight, disappointing and angering guests who had paid $100 for the event. While some unhappy partygoers turned to destroying the restaurant hosting the party and stealing artwork from the attached museum, others turned to the message boards on Max’s Web site to vent their frustrations.

In his suit, DiMeo identified six posts made on the message boards that he believed typified the types of statements made against him on Max’s site, several of which included death threats and accusations of false advertising and fraud. DiMeo never claimed that Max wrote any of the statements himself, but rather that Max, “through his website publishes defamatory statements” aimed at him.

The district court dismissed the suit, relying on the federal Communications Decency Act, which states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Thus, even though Max selects, removes and alters posts on his message boards, he cannot be held liable for any statements that he himself did not make.

The court of appeals agreed with the district court in finding that the Communications Decency Act barred DiMeo’s claim. Because DiMeo did not “allege that Max authored the comments on the website or that he is an information content provider,” Max was immune from tort liability.

Max’s attorney, Michael Twersky, said that DiMeo’s attempt to get around the act — by claiming the Web site owner’s editing and selecting of the content made him more than just a service provider — had no merit.

“The courts, in all of the CDA cases, have held that if you don’t create — in whole or in part — the content, then there is no liability,” Twersky said.

(DiMeo v. Max; Media Counsel: Michael K. Twersky, Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhodes, Philadelphia)Matthew Pollack

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