Blog Defamation Lawsuit Lacks Jurisdiction–TrafficPower.com v. Seobook.com

By Eric Goldman

Software Development and Investment of Nevada d/b/a Traffic-Power.com v. Wall d/b/a Seobook.com, No. 2:05-cv-01109-RLH-LRL (D. Nev. motion to dismiss granted Feb. 13, 2006)

I generally avoid blogging about Internet jurisdiction cases. They tend to be fact-specific, and as a result the case law in this area is especially inconsistent (even by Internet law standards). The courts are also hampered by a legacy 1997 case (the seminal Zippo case) that tends to find jurisdiction more often than it should. Because of its deficiencies, many courts have veered away from Zippo, but it still gets cited way too often.

Despite being just a jurisdictional case, this case is interesting because it’s one of the few cases specifically about blogs, and as everyone knows, blog law is hot.

In this case, Aaron Wall (a Pennsylvania resident) runs a blog on SEO topics. The blog allows users to comment and to buy Wall’s book. The complaint alleges that Wall and his users defamed the plaintiff’s services on the blog and posted plaintiff’s trade secrets. Obviously, to the extent Wall’s users posted defamatory contents, Wall is insulated per 230. However, even in that case, Wall could be on the hook for any defamatory comments he posted, and 230 probably doesn’t cover the trade secret claims.

The plaintiff sued in Nevada federal court. Wall moves to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

Under the Zippo precedent, the court considers if the combination of the book sales and the user comments makes Wall’s website “interactive.” Some courts would have deemed the blog an e-commerce site because it sold books, which would have supported jurisdiction in Nevada. This court wisely looks beyond that and notes that there was no evidence Wall ever sold his book in Nevada. Collectively, the book sales and user comments were enough to characterize the blog as “interactive,” but not enough to warrant jurisdiction.

After rejecting the effects test, the court dismisses the case for lack of jurisdiction. However, the plaintiff can amend the complaint and try again, so the case isn’t over yet.

This is a favorable ruling for bloggers. At minimum, it suggests that even if the blog enables user comments and thereby creates an interactive website under the Zippo test, jurisdiction will not automatically follow.

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