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Local cheerleader lawsuit could have wide impact on internet

COVINGTON, Ky. (Joe Webb) -- The battle between a former Bengals cheerleader and a gossip website goes back to court Thursday.
Sarah Jones won a federal defamation lawsuit and a 338,000 dollars settlement last summer against "The Dirty [dot] com."  The site's operator appealed the decision.  The outcome of this local case could dramatically change the internet as we now know it.
It was last July when Sarah Jones walked out of the federal courthouse in Covington a winner.  She won her claim The Dirty [dot] Com defamed her with statements claiming she had sex with Bengals players and STD's.  Thursday, the website had its day in appeals court; arguing it's protected by federal law and a third party who posted on the site defamed Jones.  Both sides argued for 15 minutes.

"The court was pretty hostile, I think, toward Sarah Jones' arguments.  The court seemed very suspicious of the potential effect of the lower court's ruling on the internet and free speech," said Monica Dias of Frost, Brown and Todd.
Dias thought the panel of judges was more receptive to the arguments made by The Dirty [dot] Com.  Founder Nik Richie agreed.

"I'm really happy today.  I think we kicked their ****.  I think this was a long time coming.  The judges were totally on our side.  They understand The Dirty and what it stands for and my lawyer did really well and the good guy always wins in the end," said Richie.
Jones didn't talk Thursday.  Her attorney said he feels good about the ruling being upheld.

Jones' attorney, Christopher Roach, said, "Looking at the case law and looking at the statute, I don't think it was Congress's intent to say there's no liability on the part of the websites whatsoever."
But that's exactly what every other prior ruling has said.  That's why the Sarah Jones case has big implications.  If the decision in Covington stands, it will change the internet.  Especially websites that accept posts.  The Dirty's attorney said it would be a nuclear meltdown.

Dias says website operators would simply quit filtering content, "Your website would likely become a free-for-all for all kinds of speech, including pornography and all kinds of hate speech."
And it all hinges on a local case where somebody said some ugly, and untrue gossip about a cheerleader.  The panel of judges that heard the arguments Thursday morning isn't expected to rule for several weeks.

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