BEAUMONT, Texas (CN) - Victims of a "revenge porn" website cannot sue web host GoDaddy.com because it is not a content provider, a Texas appeals court ruled Thursday.
Hollie Toups and 16 other women had filed the breach of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence suit
last year against Texxxan.com and GoDaddy in Orange County District Court.
They called Texxxan.com an "explicit website is dedicated to publishing intimate photos of young women, and also publishing private facts about these women, all of which are done without obtaining permission or authorization from the women who are the victims of this website."
The website serves no useful, social or economic purpose and is "merely a blight upon society and a sick, cowardly enterprise for the specific purpose of inflicting emotional distress and harm upon each and every plaintiff," the complaint stated. Though GoDaddy did not create the offensive material, it still allegedly knew of the content, failed to take it down and profited off of it.
The trial court refused to dismiss the claims against GoDaddy, but a three-judge panel with the 9th District Court of Appeals in Beaumont reversed Thursday.
"Allowing plaintiffs' to assert any cause of action against GoDaddy for publishing content created by a third party, or for refusing to remove content created by a third party would be squarely inconsistent with section 230" of the federal Communications Decency Act, Justice Charles Kreger wrote for the court. "Because GoDaddy acted only as an interactive computer service provider and was not an information content provider with regard to the material published on the websites, plaintiffs cannot maintain claims against GoDaddy that treat it as a publisher of that material."
Toups and the other women failed to show that the CDA does not grant immunity for content that is illegal or not protected by the First Amendment.
The plain language of the law gives immunity even when the content is "illegal, obscene, or otherwise may form the basis of criminal prosecution," the 22-page opinion states.
"There is no provision in the CDA that limits its application to suits involving constitutionally protected material," Kreger wrote. "Reading such an exception into the statute would undermine its purpose."
Noting that the complaint has already been amended three times, the appeals court declined to green-light another go.
"Allowing plaintiffs to once again replead their case, at this late stage, would be an inefficient use of the parties' and the court's resources, would unduly prejudice GoDaddy, and would be contrary to the policies set forth in the CDA," Kreger wrote.
In March, Toups filed a federal copyright suit against Yahoo and Google over their search engines linking to the unauthorized photographs.
"Toups has provided proper notice to each of these defendants, requesting that they take down all links that would show these copyrighted photos, and all images showing these copyrighted images," the complaint states. "All of the defendants refuse to do so, despite receiving proper notice and a demand to do so."