July 2, 2009

MySpace, Web Servers Not Liable For Assaults

On Tuesday, a California appeals court ruled in an opinion that Internet servers, such as MySpace, cannot be held responsible for minors who are sexually assaulted by people they meet on a website.

The ruling, which aligns with federal appeals court rulings, comes a day before the sentencing of a Missouri woman who is accused of using a fake MySpace account to harass a teenage girl.

The girl who was harassed committed suicide.

The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles combined similar cases brought by minor females, dubbed "Julie Does," and their guardians, accusing MySpace of being negligent and not providing appropriate age-verification software.

The court found that a section of the Communications Decency Act protects Web servers against negligence claims.

The plaintiffs' attorneys could not be reached for comment.

A MySpace spokeswoman released a statement saying the company was "pleased" with the court's decision.

Rebecca Jeschke, spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the opinion was "very important," especially for online classifieds site Craigslist, who has been accused by state attorneys of negligence in illegal sex ad postings.

Social networking sites were watching the "MySpace Mom" case, in which Missouri mother Lori Drew was indicted on felony conspiracy charges for harassing her daughter's rival through a fake MySpace profile.

A federal jury cleared Drew of the felony charges, but found her guilty of three misdemeanor charges. 

Drew faces up to three years in prison when sentencing happens on Thursday.

The case put pressure on social networking sites to crack down on similar activities.

"The idea is, you hold the speaker responsible not the soapbox," Jeschke told Reuters. "If you want any kind of social interaction on the Internet this is very important."

The opinion is Julie Doe II et al v. MySpace Inc, Case No. B205643, Second District Court of Appeals.