4595386436_a9e69028edCincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones was victorious this week against blog TheDirty.com in her lawsuit for libel and defamation.

TheDirty.com touts itself as the “world’s first ever reality blogger” who is “all about gossip and satire.” The site’s posts primarily criticize and disparage pictures of girls wearing provocative clothing. Along with its scandalous remarks, the website lists the disclaimer, “Postings may contain erroneous or inaccurate information. All images are credited to their original location. The owner of this site does not ensure the accuracy of any content presented on TheDirty.com.” The disclaimer was not enough to save TheDirty.com in court.

Jones sued TheDirty.com for libel and defamation after the website alleged that she had sex with Bengals players and had two venereal diseases. The blog explicitly referred to Jones as Sarah J. and included her picture. Jones only sued the website after it ignored her repeated requests to take down the material. Reports on TheDirty.com especially humiliated twenty-five year old Jones because she is a high school teacher. The school was forced to block the website because so many students were reading about Jones from school computers.

Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, which runs the site TheDirty.com, and the site’s operator Hooman Karamian, also known by his online alias “Nik Richie,” were named defendants in the action, which was brought in February.

The defendants never responded to the lawsuit.

Judge William Bertelsman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky handed down the judgment Thursday. He awarded one million dollars in compensatory damages and a hefty ten million in punitive damages. He also added an annual interest rate of 0.25 percent.

The damages award could be reversed, however, because of a basic violation of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Richie, the site’s operator, said neither he nor his company were ever served in the case. Furthermore, Richie states that the offending post has since been removed. The complaint listed the defendant as Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, but the actual name of the company is Dirty World LLC. Despite Richie’s claims, Bertelsman ruled against Dirty World Entertainment Recordings. Kentucky attorney Eric Deters, who represents Jones, stated that it was irrelevant that the incorrect corporation, website, and physical address were listed on the complaint and judgment.

Deters further responded to Richie’s claims, “We’re still going to serve that S.O.B. personally . . . I’m going to make that dirty, rotten, mean, vermin bastard pay. He’s a piece of dirt.” Sounds like Deters is using the public statements to the media to give Richie a taste of his own insulting medicine.

– Anne Goodwyn

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2 Responses to Gossip Blogger Must Pay Heavy Fine For Spreading Rumors

  1. Anonymous says:

    The Internet is truly powerful in its ability to ruin a reputation. While the First Amendment demands the protection of speech, even when it is undesirable speech, there is a limit on that protection when lies are spread about ordinary citizens. As Andrew highlights above, for celebrities, actual malice must be shown in order to succeed. But for an ordinary citizen, a much lower standard applies. Sarah Jones faced ridicule within her daily occupation, and the site provided no filter to ensure the statements were even true or could quickly be removed.

    How the First Amendment Libel Law will apply in the 21st Century is difficult to know. With facebook users and bloggers able to state opinions freely, I think the First Amendment faces some real challenges, as courts try to determine what speech is protected and what speech is not.

  2. Andrew Farrell says:

    This case involves two interesting legal points that the Kardashians and Snookie might find interesting. First, some state long-arm statutes allow plaintiffs suing non-residents to serve the Secretary of State in order to satisfy procedural notice requirements. The Secretary of State then has to take certain steps to attempt to serve the defendant, but if things don’t work out (you listed the wrong address on the summons and the defendant never receives notice) the defendants Due Process rights are still deemed to be satisfied.

    Second, courts have held that the Communications Decency Act does not extend immunity to blog sites that encourage the posting of offensive, defamatory statements. One way to encourage posting is to allow users to comment on stories and then reply to those comments.

    Even though celebrities must prove that defamatory claims against them were published with actual malice, I think these principles would encourage them to take more chances in court against some of the more reckless blogging sites out there. This is especially true, considering the amount of compensatory and punitive damages awarded in the litigation against thedirty.com.