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    Court Dismisses Libel Lawsuit Against iBrattleboro

    by David Ardia
    March 20, 2008

    In a case we’ve been following closely at the Citizen Media Law Project, a Vermont judge has dismissed the libel lawsuit filed against Chris Grotke and Lise LePage, co-founders and owners of iBrattleboro.com, a widely acclaimed community journalism site based in Brattleboro, Vermont, ruling that Grotke and LePage are immune from liability under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA 230”).

    The lawsuit, which was filed by Effie Mayhew on November 16, 2007, alleges that David
    Dunn, the former executive director of Rescue Inc.,
    an emergency medical services organization where Mayhew works as a
    volunteer, libeled her in a comment on the site. While Mayhew’s
    complaint didn’t make any allegations that Grotke or
    LePage authored the allegedly defamatory statements, her lawyer (as
    well as several commentators in Vermont) asserted that iBrattleboro.com
    should be liable because the site admins failed to edit or remove
    Dunn’s comment.

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    As I mentioned in a previous post,
    Grotke and LePage are clearly shielded from liability under CDA 230,
    which does not require that website operators remove user-submitted
    material even if they have been notified that the information is
    defamatory. See Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997). Moreover, immunity exists if website operators edit comments (so long
    as the edits do not materially change the meaning of the statement) or
    otherwise exercise discretion in selecting which comments to post or
    remove. See, e.g., Donato v. Moldow, 865 A.2d 711 (N.J. Super. Ct. 2005).

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    This is a significant victory for community journalism sites, which
    often rely heavily on user-submitted content. Like many such sites, iBrattleboro
    edits and removes user comments in order to create “a forum for
    information-sharing, discussion and debate in a respectful and friendly
    atmosphere.” This is the quintessential activity that CDA 230 was meant
    to immunize, and courts have consistently held that these activities do
    not make an interactive computer service liable for
    defamatory material it does publish on its site.

    In his order dismissing the suit against Grotke and LePage, Superior Court Judge David Howard wrote:

    [T]he Court takes judicial notice of the fact
    that iBrattleboro is an interactive computer service as defined by the
    CDA. . . . The gravamen of Plaintiff’s complaint is that Defendant Dunn
    posted statements of his own making on the iBrattleboro website.
    Therefore, the Court also finds that Defendant Dunn, as alleged, is an
    “information content provider” because he is a “person or entity that
    is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of
    information provided through the Internet or any other interactive
    computer service.” . . . Because Plaintiff herein seeks to impose
    liability for defamation on Defendants for publishing information on
    their site admittedly provided by Defendant Dunn, the Court concludes
    that Defendants are immune and the claim barred under the CDA.

    You can read more on the decision in the Rutland Herald.

    Of course, the case can continue against David Dunn, who is the author
    of the allegedly
    defamatory comment, as he does not have a basis for immunity under CDA
    230. In addition, a countersuit by Dunn against Mayhew is still
    pending.

    You can follow future developments in the case by going to the
    CMLP database entry: Mayhew v. Dunn.

    Tagged: cda 230 cmlp ibrattleboro libel
    • Asker

      I have seen the update from Mayhew v Dunn that the claim against Dunn is also dismissed.

      How does CDA 230 work for bloggers ? If I were a US blogger, and allegedly defamatory comments were posted by a unidentified third party on my blog, would CDA 230 still protect me even if I failed to weed out all the bad comments ?

      Now, my situation is different in that I am in a Common Law jurisdiction (not US). Are there any known situations where guidance from CDA 230 was accepted by courts in non-USA jurisdictions ?

      Thank you.

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