Motivational Speaker Sues For Defamation, Seeks To Unmask Commenters

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A motivational speaker has sued Elizabeth Arden's Complaintsboard.com, blog host WordPress, and the Buffalo, N.Y.-based news site Artvoice for allegedly hosting libelous comments by users.

In a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Utah, James Smith, who gives talks about real estate and financial matters, alleges that he was defamed by online comments accusing him of having "extramarital affairs" and asserting that "he and his entities are dishonest, deceitful, untrustworthy, and who fleece investors."

He says that two of the sites that allegedly published the comments, Artvoice.com and the blog Xenophilius.wordpress.com, deleted the material in August; ComplaintsBoard.com allegedly declined to remove the posts. All three of the sites allegedly refused to comply with his request that they identify the users who made the posts.

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Smith now seeks monetary damages for defamation and an order requiring the sites to unmask the commenters.

The federal Communications Decency Act provides that Web sites are immune from lawsuits stemming from defamatory posts created by users, but Smith argues that law doesn't apply on the theory that the sites "developed and disseminated" the posts and "encouraged and facilitated defamation."

Smith's lawsuit is just the latest of a string of cases in which disgruntled business owners have attempted to hold gripe sites or other Web publishers liable for commenters' posts. Courts by and large have dismissed such cases because of the Communications Decency Act, even when the plaintiffs argue that the law doesn't apply, says Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. "We've seen a lot of attempted workarounds like this," he says, adding, "and they don't work."

Complaintsboard.com alone, for instance, has been sued in federal court three times in recent years. All of the lawsuits were dismissed, according to court records.

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