A New York State Trial Court Judge granted a default judgment in a libel case after allowing the plaintiff to serve his lawsuit on the defendant on the website where the anonymous libel occurred.
In Anonymous v. Anonymous Jane Does’, 151769/2013, Justice Milton Tingling observed that the European right to be forgotten law under certain conditions gives plaintiffs the opportunity to attain the redress they deserve. The case arose from allegations made on a now inoperative site, Dirtyphonebook.com, where anonymous commentators claimed that the plaintiff was a prostitute. Plaintiff sued, arguing defamation per se, responding that he never engaged in the sexual activity described. Justice Tingling permitted the plaintiffs to serve the defendants by posting the summons and complaint, and an order to show cause on Dirtyphonebook.com. When defendants failed to appear, the plaintiff moved for a default judgment and the Judge granted the motion. The Judge ruled that the comments were defamatory and ordered that all the defamatory, disparaging, libelous, and false statements about the plaintiff be removed from the website.
Judge Tingling commented the case was an unfortunate prime example of the procedural limitations imposed by the Communications Decency Act on the plaintiff’s ability to litigate online defamation. Section 230 of the Act states that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher and speaker of any information provided by another informative content provider. As the Judge explained, the statute leaves victims with no hope of relief where the true tortfeasors cannot be identified or are judgment proof. The Judge said he could not create laws but he hoped to offer suggestions to the Legislature. He pointed to the rule regarding the right to be forgotten in the European Union Court’s 2014 case, Google Spain v. Agencia Espanola to Proteccion Datos, case C-131/12, where the court said individuals have the right under certain circumstances to request that search engines remove links to personal information that was inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for data processing purposes.