Section 230 of the CDA Saved An Online Forum From Defamation Charges

competitor who spreads rumors
What can you do about a competitor who spreads rumors about you or your business online?

In This Article:

  • Case study about a businessman who filed a defamation lawsuit against an online forum he suspected of being run by a competitor.
  • Contact information for a lawyer who has successfully handled unfair competition cases.

“You’re A Competitor Who Spreads Rumors! I’m Suing For Defamation”

For three days in 2008, a New York real estate blog was overflowing with gossip. Local agent, Christakis Shiamili, head of Ardor Realty, was the focus.

In typical flame war fashion, the posts included user commentary about Shiamili and links to unflattering articles elsewhere on the Web.

Competitor Controls The Website Hosting The Defamatory Material?

You may be thinking, “So, what! That’s the nature of the Internet.”

But here’s the rub – the site with the damaging threads? Well, it was allegedly established and maintained by one of Shiamili’s main competitors, the Real Estate Group of New York. Moreover, accusations made on the site went a tad further than normal Internet griping. Shiamili, in addition to being labeled an adulterer, was accused of not paying bills and mistreating employees.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act: Protection For Website Operators Against Defamation

Incensed over the derogatory blog postings, Shiamili hired a lawyer and filed an online defamation lawsuit against the Real Estate Group of New York, its CEO, and the offending blog’s webmaster. The defendants immediately sought immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, claiming they were merely  administrator,  not the actual “information content providers.”

In the first go-round, a judge dismissed the case on Section 230 grounds. Undaunted, Shiamili appealed. His team argued that the “critical point” of illegality was that Shiamili’s business rivals – the defendants – knowingly encouraged “anonymous users” to post damaging information.

Judge Robert Smith agreed that the site operators “obviously encouraged provocative, critical, derogatory things to be posted,” but reminded that doing so isn’t “against the law.” Legally, in 99% of lawsuits, only false statements of fact satisfy the legal definition of slander and libel.

Like the presiding judge in the initial hearing, an attorney for the defense called attention to the Communications Decency Act. “The law is supposed to protect websites,” he admonished, “not force them to shut down because of the risk of litigation.”

The defense also argued that the threads in question linked to previously posted material elsewhere on the Web. As such, neither the Real Estate Group of New York, nor its CEO or webmaster, should be held liable.

Perhaps the most witty opinion was that of Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. who quipped, “I don’t know if [it is] defamation or not. But if [the plaintiff] did that, it seems to me maybe we should have some exploration of exactly what was going on there; because as I started out saying, somebody ought to be embarrassed by this.”

Contact An Unfair Competition Lawyer

Trying to figure out how to handle a competitor who spreads rumors about you or your business? Get in touch; we’ll map out the best course of action for your situation.

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