A Winnipeg lawyer says he's been fielding calls from people who hope a recent U.S. court ruling involving gossip website TheDirty.com can help restore their reputations.
Brian Bowman, who specializes in privacy law, says he has numerous clients who have had material posted about them in the website's Winnipeg section.
Thedirty.com allows people to submit comments and photographs of others that can be unflattering, cruel and sometimes untrue.
Last week, former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones was awarded $338,000 US in damages after a federal court jury in Covington, Ky., found TheDirty.com's operator, Nik Ritchie, guilty of defamation.
"The case is significant because it's one of the few cases where an internet website like TheDirty.com is being held liable in the U.S. for content that's posted on the site," Bowman told CBC News on Wednesday.
Jones testified that she was mocked and humiliated by website posts from 2009 that she says were false and malicious, including one that alleged that she had sex with every Bengals player and another that said she probably had two sexually transmitted diseases.
The jury agreed that the posts about Jones were substantially false. It also ruled that Ritchie had acted with malice or reckless disregard.
"It's one chink in the armour," Bowman said.
"I think what we're hoping to see, and certainly I'm hoping to see, is website operators like this being held to greater account when they know that individuals are being harmed."
Website operator's lawyer filing appeal
David Gingras, the attorney representing Ritchie and TheDirty.com, said he has filed an appeal in the case, arguing that the judge gave improper instructions to the jury.
"He told the jury that they were allowed to treat Nik Ritchie, who is the founder and editor of TheDirty.com, that they were allowed to treat him as a 'publisher' of material posted online by users of the website. And that is directly contrary to law," Gingras told CBC News.
"Since 1996 the United States has had a federal law in place that prohibits exactly that. It literally says website owners shall not be treated as publishers of third-party content, and that's why you cannot sue Facebook in the United States over a third-party posting. You can sue the author, but you can't sue Mark Zuckerberg."
Bowman said while the U.S. court case is significant, he's been warning his clients not to expect big monetary settlements for defamation.
"We will be cautioning people not to jump to conclusions and not to presume that, all of a sudden, you're going to be able to get a million dollars out of this or other websites," Bowman said, adding that such cases are often difficult to win.
In addition to having posts about celebrities and athletes, TheDirty.com has regional pages for cities across the United States and Canada, including Winnipeg.