Judge Faults Parents in MySpace Sexual Assault Suit

Lawyers for a minor who alleged she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old she met on social network MySpace.com are planning to appeal a court’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit.

The lawyers originally claimed MySpace failed in its duty to protect the minor with reasonable safety measures, despite knowing other minors had fallen prey to similar crimes.

But a U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas ruled on Tuesday that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), which holds that an “interactive computer service” should not be considered a publisher, frees News Corporation and its property MySpace from the responsibility of policing postings to its site.

The court decided that exchanged personal information led to an in-person meeting and sexual assault and that MySpace should not responsible for the information exchanged on its site. “Web services have no duty to investigate their client’s activities or to prevent potential injury that results therefrom,” the court said.

In its ruling, the court also dismissed claims that MySpace had a duty to protect the minor from her attacker.

“We don’t believe the Communications Decency Act applies to a case like this,” Adam Loewy of law firm Barry & Loewy, told internetnews.com.

In representing the minor, he argued that the CDA applies primarily to defamation cases, such as when a person defames someone on a Web site and that defamed person sues the owner of the Web site.

But the court in Austin dismissed the suit for reasons beyond CDA immunity.

“Plaintiffs allege MySpace was on notice of several previous sexual assaults perpetuated by MySpace users against minor members [and therefore] Julie Doe’s sexual assault was the foreseeable result of MySpace’s negligent failure,” the court’s ruling recounts.

But it also compared MySpace to a phone company that enables communications and allows users to conduct whatever business they choose.

“If anyone had a duty protect Julie Doe, it was her parents, not MySpace,” the court ruled.

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