The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to dismiss claims for defamation under the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 USC § 230, and for copyright infringement under the fair use doctrine. Monsarrat v. Newman, Case No. 21-1146 (Kayatta, Lipez, Gelpí, JJ.).
The parties’ dispute arose from a series of posts on a community message board. Residents of the Davis Square neighborhood in Massachusetts maintained a Live Journal forum for several years. In response to a revision of the Live Journal terms of service in 2017, Ron Newman, a member of the community, copied the entirety of the content from the Live Journal forum to another online platform: Dreamwidth. The copied content included a series of allegedly defamatory posts about Jonathan Monsarrat and a post that Monsarrat had copyrighted. Monsarrat sued Newman for both defamation and copyright infringement. Newman moved to dismiss the defamation claim under the CDA, § 230, and the copyright claim under the fair use doctrine. After the district court granted the motions, Monsarrat appealed.
The First Circuit first addressed the defamation claim under § 230. Newman argued that § 230 provided him immunity from defamation. Specifically, § 230 states “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” It also provides a shield from state law claims that would be “inconsistent with this section.” Courts apply a three-part analysis to determine whether a defendant is entitled to immunity under § 230:
- Is the defendant a “provider or user of an interactive computer service”?
- Is the claim based on “information provided by another information content provider”?
- Does the claim treat the defendant “as the publisher or speaker” of that information?
Monsarrat did not challenge the fact that Newman was a “user” under the first prong. Regarding the second prong, the analysis hinged on whether Newman was an “information content provider,” which in turn relied on whether Newman was responsible for the allegedly defamatory content in whole or in part. The factual record showed that Newman did nothing but copy the allegedly defamatory posts that had been created by another. Monsarrat unsuccessfully argued that Newman was responsible because Newman copied the posts from Live Journal to a different digital platform with an allegedly different audience. The First Circuit was not persuaded, ruling that providing essentially the same content on a different platform did not make a defendant responsible for that content under § 230. Regarding the third prong, Monsarrat’s complaint clearly alleged that Newman was acting as a publisher. The Court affirmed the dismissal of the defamation claim under § 230.
Monsarrat’s copyright claim related to a Live Journal post by Monsarrat in the Davis Square forum. He had created a post with a link to Live Journal’s harassment policy, a quotation from the policy and a brief message regarding his attempts to report the abuse he felt he had suffered by other [...]