Media & Communications Law

6th Circuit reverses $338K libel verdict for ex-Bengals cheerleader against website

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A federal appeals court has reversed a $338,000 libel verdict awarded to a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader.

Allegations made on about Sarah Jones were indeed defamatory, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its Monday opinion (PDF). However, the company that operates the gossip site and its founder, Nik Richie, are protected from liability under the Federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 because third parties posted the content.

A federal district court judge had agreed with Jones and her lawyer, Chris Roach, that the defendants had sailed outside the safe harbor provided by the law by playing a significant role in developing the objected-to material.

Roach told the Enquirer that he and Jones had hoped to see Richie appealing the 6th Circuit ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court but will now be doing so themselves.

Attorney David Gingras represented Richie and said his client is happy with the decision.

Proponents of the Communications Decency Act and the 6th Circuit’s interpretation of it, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say it encourages free speech.

Roach called today’s ruling a “green light to do anything that’s technically illegal on the Internet,” the newspaper reports.

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