Handing tech companies a victory, a federal judge has thrown out Philadelphia news anchor Karen Hepp's lawsuit over the unauthorized display of her photo on Facebook, Reddit and Imgur.
In a ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge in John Younge in Philadelphia said Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects the websites from lawsuits based on material uploaded by users.
“Because plaintiff’s claims are premised on third-party-posted content that were hosted on each defendants’ respective platforms, these claims are not actionable under Section 230,” Younge wrote.
The ruling stems from a complaint brought by Hepp last year, when she alleged that a security photo of her taken at a New York City convenience store was being used in ads on Facebook for dating sites.
Hepp, co-anchor of the morning show "Good Day Philadelphia," also sued other companies that allegedly displayed the photo -- including Imgur and Reddit.
She alleged that the image was being displayed in a sexualized context on those other sites. On Imgur, for instance, the image allegedly appears under the heading “milf” -- a term her complaint defines as “a derogatory and degrading slang acronym that refers to a sexually attractive woman with young children.”
Among other claims, Hepp said the tech companies were violating Pennsylvania's “right of publicity” law, which allows people to control the commercial use of their names and likenesses.
Facebook, Reddit and Imgur urged Younge to dismiss the case, arguing that they were protected by Section 230 from suit over images uploaded by users.
While Section 230 generally immunizes web companies from lawsuits based on users' content, the law has an exception for content that violates intellectual property -- including material that is copyrighted or trademarked.
Hepp argued that Pennsylvania's “right of publicity” should be considered an intellectual property right. If she had prevailed with that argument, the websites would not have been able to claim immunity under Section 230.
Younge rejected Hepp's stance. He wrote that tying Section 230's protections to state laws such as Pennsylvania's right of publicity law "would have a negative effect on the development of the internet," and would therefore run counter to the purpose of Section 230.