Technology

Lawsuit against modelling website revived

Model Mayhem website Image copyright Model Mayhem

A lawsuit against a modelling website, alleging that it failed to warn members about rapists using the site, has been revived by a US court.

The case against Internet Brands, which operates Model Mayhem, was originally dismissed in 2014.

But a federal appeals court has now overturned that decision.

The lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims she was drugged and raped by men who had contacted her through the website.

'Failure to warn'

The woman, referred to in court documents as Jane Doe, was an aspiring model who had created a profile on Model Mayhem.

She claims she was contacted and invited to a casting session in 2011, but it was a sham and she was drugged and then raped on camera by two men.

Two men were jailed for similar offences in 2012.

The woman claims Internet Brands was aware that people were using the Model Mayhem site to target women in this way, but failed to warn its members, making it liable for negligence under California law.

Overturned

Internet Brands filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds that it was barred by the US Communications Decency Act (CDA), which says websites cannot be held responsible for content posted by their users.

"No 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," the law states.

At the time, online giants including eBay and Facebook told the court that the lawsuit would have a "chilling effect" on the internet.

The district court dismissed the lawsuit in 2014.

However, a federal appeals court in California has now revived the lawsuit because it does not concern what was posted on Model Mayhem.

"Jane Doe does not claim to have been lured by any posting that Internet Brands failed to remove. Internet Brands is also not alleged to have learned of the predators' activity from any monitoring of postings on the website," the court wrote.

"Instead, Jane Doe attempts to hold Internet Brands liable for failing to warn her about information it obtained from an outside source about how third parties targeted and lured victims through Model Mayhem.

"Internet Brands could have given a warning to Model Mayhem users, perhaps by posting a notice on the website or by informing users by email what it knew about the activities."

A trial court must now decide whether the "failure to warn" lawsuit can go ahead.

"We express no opinion on the viability of the failure to warn allegations," the federal court wrote. "We hold only that the CDA is not a valid basis to dismiss Jane Doe's complaint."

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