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Censorship The Courts Your Rights Online

Court Rules Website Doesn't Have To Remove Defamatory Comments 145

DustyShadow writes "In the case of Blockowicz v. Williams, The US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to force Ripoff Report to remove allegedly defamatory comments posted by a user. The Ripoff Report has a well-publicized no-takedown policy, even if the author wants to remove his/her post, so the Ripoff Report refused. The Blockowiczs then claimed that the Ripoff Report violated FRCP 65(d) because the Ripoff Report was 'in active concert or participation' with the initial posters by refusing the injunction's removal order. The district court (and the Court of Appeals) disagreed with the Blockowiczs. Absent the 'active concert or participation,' the website was outside the court's control. Ripoff Report has released a statement concerning this case: 'In keeping with our core mission of protecting speech to the fullest extent of the law, we decided that it was not just our right but also our duty to ask questions and dig deeper before we could comply with such an order. Other sites claim they support free speech, but when the going gets rough, they will usually protect their bottom line rather than the Constitutional rights and freedoms this country was founded upon. Unlike other sites, even when the speech involved is harsh or negative and even if our position sometimes generates negative press for us, we think that the First Amendment requires us to put our principles before our pocketbook and fight against censorship.'"
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Court Rules Website Doesn't Have To Remove Defamatory Comments

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  • Re:Precedent (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @04:39PM (#34702992)

    Since it was a circuit court of appeals decision, does this set precedent in other districts?

    No. The case would have to be appealed to the Supreme Court and the judgment upheld to apply outside of that specific circuit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @04:40PM (#34703000)
    It is obviously a principle issue since they talk about the first Amendment and their principle is that they do not remove posts(no qualifications), they stuck to their principles and didn't remove it. The court held that they are true to their word, and certainly did not act in concert or participation with any other party(including court orders, which serves to strengthen their case on appeal in my mind).
  • by mark72005 ( 1233572 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @04:41PM (#34703012)
    I know a person who who was hurt by this. She is a wedding photographer and was unable to meet the increasingly demanding requests of a Bridezilla, who then posted an extremely negative review on ripoff report which contained numerous falsehoods. Even after Bridezilla recanted and wanted to take it down, the website won't remove the comments.

    I personally do not see what free speech or the first amendment have to do with not letting anything be taken down, even if the author wants it taken down.
  • by KingSkippus ( 799657 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @04:56PM (#34703174) Homepage Journal

    I think you are misunderstanding this case, or didn't read the summary.

    The government issued an injunction to remove comments from the web site that the site refused to obey, which puts it squarely in First Amendment territory. Their claim to be protecting the First Amendment is perfectly valid, as that amounts to government censorship of speech. From TFA:

    Plaintiffs got an injunction that ordered defendants to remove defamatory content from the web that defendants had posted. When the defendants did not comply with the injunction, plaintiffs asked the court to enforce the injunction against, the website on which some of the defamatory content appeared.

    I don't know where you got the notion that this is just a private entity acting without any government intervention or involvement.

  • Re:Precedent (Score:4, Informative)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @05:07PM (#34703310) Homepage
    Since it was a circuit court of appeals decision, does this set precedent in other districts? Hopefully it won't be overturned by our good DoJ friends up in the Supreme Court during an appeal.

    It can be used as persuasive authority in other courts; the fact that the 7th circuit made this holding strengthens similar arguments elsewhere. And not sure what you mean by DoJ.
  • Re:Precedent (Score:5, Informative)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @05:40PM (#34703664)

    Not quite true. SCOTUS has had several cases where ISPs and websites have been sued to have content taken down, where the ISP wasn't "in active concert" with the purveyors of the content. It allowed the hosting providers/webmasters/portals to be held harmless-- so long as the ISP/webmasters didn't edit or delete user-added content/comments, thus NOT providing a role that shapes the content. IF you don't touch the content, then you're not actively being involved. That's why the Seventh Circuit's language is what it is in this particular ligitation. IANAL, but understand the law and SCOTUS speech precendents well.

    Of course, other US Agencies have taken down some websites based on another legal theory, but that hasn't been litigated yet. And in my opinion, they did this without probable cause and without due process.

  • by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @06:18PM (#34704054)

    Since this is currently the highest modded "First Amendment" post, I'll critique it -- not you specifically.

    [1] The government issued an injunction to remove comments from the web site that [2] the site refused to obey, [3] which puts it squarely in First Amendment territory.

    [1] Yes. The trial court issued an injunction in a default judgment against the defendant (the poster, not the web site).

    [2] Indirectly. The web site (correctly) argued that it was not required to follow the injunction, because it was neither the defendant nor a party "in active concert or participation" with the defendant. There is a rule of the Federal Courts, FRCP 65(d) [], that constrains the courts' ability to issue judgments affecting those who are not parties to the case. The district court followed it. The plaintiff took this up on appeal.

    [3] No. 47 USC 230(c)(1) [] says that the web site cannot be treated as the speaker, and apparently cannot be compelled to remove content (other than through mechanisms like the DMCA takedown notice existing in other statutes). It would/will be interesting to see if the web site could be compelled to take down content if it was defamatory and the defendant was seeking to have it taken down. However, that is not the case. Nobody has proved that the content is defamatory in a way that binds the web site to that conclusion, and the defendant is apparently MIA.

    This is not a first amendment issue, it is first an issue of compliance with judicial rules, and second a statutory issue involving ISP/ICS immunity. The courts will not consider something a constitutional issue if it can be resolved solely though existing rules and statutes. Whatever policy or rhetorical relationship there is with the first amendment, this case has been decided purely based upon legislated laws.

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