Model Mayhem back in court for case that could set precedent for website liability

Image used with permission from copyright holder Model Mayhem, an online community that connects models with photographers, is back in court in a case that could have ramifications far beyond the photography industry — so far, in fact, that Internet giants like Facebook, Craigslist and Tumblr have gotten involved in the case, giving support to the accused.

The case in question is known as Jane Doe no. 14 v. Internet Brands, Inc. The lawsuit alleges that Internet Brands, which is the parent company of Model Mayhem, knew about the criminal activities committed by Model Mayhem users and failed to warn other users about it.

The lawsuit stems from events that took place in February 2011, when Jane Doe posted information about herself on Model Mayhem in an attempt to get modeling jobs. According to her complaint, two men contacted her through the site, drugged her, raped her and filmed the event for pornographic films.

Two Florida men, Emerson Callum and Lavont Flanders, were each prosecuted and convicted in a related criminal case and sentenced to life in prison. The issue in Jane Doe v. Internet Brands is whether the company was negligent in failing to warn the site’s models of the potential danger posed by Callum and Flanders. Jane Doe sued Internet Brands, Inc. 2012 in California seeking damages of up to 10 million dollars.

In 2014, a federal district court in California ruled that Internet Brands was not liable due to the provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which limits the liability of website owners for criminal activities involving the use of websites. That decision was overturned in May 2016 by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Internet Brands, Inc. is not protected by Section 230 in this situation and that the Jane Doe case can proceed.

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Many see the case as important in holding websites liable for user actions, something that could potentially be very costly for sites like Facebook, Craigslist or others where users interact with other users.

For its part, Internet Brands Inc. has introduced new features to Model Mayhem with the goal of helping users cross-examine other users, and Verified Credits is one that allows users to see others who have worked with another individual and whether or not it was a good experience.

What will happen in this case and how it might affect the website’s liability in the future is still up in the air, but it’s safe to say that the case has caught the attention of the internet.

Categories: GAMING

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