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Couple Can't go After GoDaddy for Defamatory Website: 2nd Cir.

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 24, 2015 3:45 PM

GoDaddy is a domain registrar and web hosting company. It allows users to pick a domain name and offers various hosting service plans. It also provides website backups, GoDaddy account support, and other online services.

The Second Circuit ruled that it is immune from defamation claims based on the websites it hosts. Under the Communications Decency Act, there are protections in place for:

  • Websites
  • Apps
  • Hosting companies
  • Other "interactive computer services"

These types of companies and services are protected from claims of:

  • Defamation
  • Negligence
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Other torts based on the publication of information by their users

Pro se litigants have sued Godaddy.com and its parent company in the past. This means people who represent themselves in court. Their case involved allegedly false statements made against them on a Teamsters website.

Suing GoDaddy for Defamation: The Allegedly Defamatory Newsletter Case

The plaintiffs, Peter and Barbara Ricci, sued the Teamsters for alleged retaliatory acts in violation of the NLRA. The case was related to:

  1. Peter's refusal to endorse the Teamsters' Union President
  2. GoDaddy publishing a Teamsters' newsletter on their website -- claiming it was defamation

The Riccis allege that Peter was "blackballed," lost jobs, and was shut out of work opportunities over ten years after refusing to endorse the Teamster President at a meeting in 2002.

In 2012, according to the Ricci's, the Teamsters published a newsletter, online and in print, defaming them and their daughter. The situation led the Ricci's to sue.

CDA's Free Speech Protections

Under Sec. 203 of the CDA, web hosting companies such as GoDaddy are shielded from liability for speech-related torts based on the information published by another.

As the Second Circuit noted, Congress explicitly set out to protect the speech "in the new and burgeoning Internet medium" through the CDA.

The grant of immunity to online services prevents them from bearing responsibility as the intermediaries of other parties' messages. However, websites that produce the information themselves are considered "content providers" that do not benefit from the CDA's immunity provisions.

GoDaddy Winning Defamation Cases

With the protections of the CDA to back it up, GoDaddy's defense was straightforward. The Riccis did not allege that GoDaddy had any relationship with the supposedly defamatory speech other than hosting it on its website.

CDA immunity is well established. Even in much more egregious cases, such as that of the "Craigslist Killer," internet intermediaries are immune from many types of tort liability.

Class Action and Liability Lawsuits For Website Hosts

The courts have ruled that website providers cannot be held liable to restrict access to objectionable material when acting in good faith. This falls under the CDA's free speech laws as well.

This doesn't always stop people from pursuing class action or individual lawsuits against GoDaddy or similar companies.

Can I Sue GoDaddy or Other Website Hosting Services?

There have been lawsuits against GoDaddy and other hosting services for issues such as:

  • Unauthorized transfer of user domain names
  • Secure information leaked in data breaches
  • Breach of contract or legal agreements for website crashes or faulty checkout processes
  •  IP address, data, and online security
  • Intellectual property
  • Trademark and copyright infringements
  • Malware and security threats
  • Violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by calling and texting without user content

These cases can be hard to win, and GoDaddy is a formidably large company with various legal protections. However, you should seek legal advice on your specific situation. An attorney can help you identify if you have a case.

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