A federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit by Jonathan Monsarrat over postings in a Somerville community forum, saying the forum's moderator did nothing wrong or defamatory when he moved the entire discussion group from a server owned by Russians to one based in the US.
Monsarrat sued Ron Newman (ed. note: Yes, our Ron Newman) last year, three years after Newman moved what had been the Davis Square LiveJournal forum to a new server rather than see the forum subject to Russian censorship laws.
The move, Monsarrat charged, meant that Newman had taken ownership of several posts Monsarrat alleged were defamatory and that he was therefore legally liable for them.
US District Court Judge Richard Stearns, however, wrote that simply changing Web hosts did not mean that Newman, who did not write the posts, had become their owner and that he was protected under a federal law, commonly called Section 230, that shields people or companies who run online forums from legal actions over what other people might post in those discussion groups.
Here, Monsarrat fails to plausibly allege that Newman participated in the creation or development of the allegedly defamatory statements. Indeed, in his opposition, he concedes that "Newman did not originally compose or write any of the original defamatory statements” but instead merely "copie[d] . . . defamatory statements published many years ago."
Monsarrat also charged that Newman violated Monsarrat's copyright on something he himself posted in the forum by moving it to the new server:
Stearns ruled that Monsarrat was legally wrong with this claim as well. Newman was covered under copyright "fair use" to move the posting to a new server because he was not publishing it on a new site for the same reason as Monsarrat and, in fact, he was posting it for a completely different reason: Rather than trying to inform other users about LiveJournal's harassment policy, which would not apply on the new site, Newman had moved it "solely for historical and preservationist purposes." Also, "Monsarrat’s post, moreover, was just one of several hundred posts copied by Newman and was not used to promote traffic to the new website."
The post largely repeats the LiveJournal harassment policy, a factual matter, and the court cannot reasonably infer under these circumstances that the warning in the final paragraph, for contributors to delete their posts in light of this policy, transformed otherwise factual matter into “a creative work enjoying broader copyright protection.”
And finally, Stearns wrote, there was no indication Newman was making any money off the newly relocated post.
There is no plausible market for the copyrighted post and thus no likelihood that Newman’s reproduction could have any harmful market consequences.
It's Monsarrat's second lawsuit over postings in the forum - he agreed to drop the first, which charged Newman, as well as a Somerville Journal reporter and 100 unnamed LiveJournal users, with defamation. In 2017, a judge dismissed another suit he brought against a separate Web site.