MySpace Quietly Won Goofy 230 Ruling in September–Riggs v. MySpace

By Eric Goldman

Riggs v. MySpace, Inc., 2:09-cv-03073-GHK-CT (C.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2009)

This case has received some modest attention throughout its history (including a quick mention here when the court upheld MySpace’s user agreement), but the district court’s dismissal of the case appears to have been completely overlooked.

Riggs created a MySpace profile that she used to authenticate celebrities’ MySpace pages to distinguish them from the many fake celebrity profiles on MySpace. Her most substantive gripe is that MySpace deleted Riggs’ profile twice, and she claims MySpace was negligent to do so. There are several reasons why MySpace should not be liable for deleting her profile, including most obviously the many self-serving provisions in MySpace’s user agreement (which the court mentions as an alternative basis of its dismissal). However, 47 USC 230(c)(1) does not appear to help MySpace because it only immunizes MySpace from liability based on third party content. Nevertheless, the district court rules against Riggs on 230(c)(1) grounds, saying:

Given that both claims for negligence are based on the deletion of Plaintiff’s profiles, a decision by MySpace to effectively “remove content” created by Plaintiff from its website, MySpace’s actions are immune from liability under Section 230(c)(1) of the CDA.

After reading this sentence a couple of times, it appears that the court is treating Riggs’ own content as the content that Riggs wanted to hold MySpace liable for—technically, the “information provided by another information content provider.” I believe that treating a plaintiff’s content as “information provided by another information content provider” is a novel reading of 230(c)(1). I also don’t think it’s the logical reading of 230(c)(1)’s grammar, especially the reference to “another.”

The court’s decision is even more puzzling because 230(c)(2), which immunizes a service provider for filtering content it subjectively deems “objectionable,” seems to squarely cover MySpace’s deletion of Riggs’ account. Could the court have intended to rule for MySpace on 230(c)(2) grounds, not 230(c)(1) grounds, and just got confused? Or perhaps the court collapsed the two provisions together, which my research assistant and I found occurred with surprising regularity in our comprehensive survey of 230(c)(2) cases. So while I think the 230(c)(1) dismissal was goofy, I would support the same outcome on 230(c)(2) grounds.

Riggs also complained that MySpace should have taken more efforts to police against fake celebrity profiles. The court rejected this claim on 230(c)(1) as well (appropriately used this time).

The remainder of Riggs’ arguments didn’t fare any better, and the court dismissed the entire complaint without leave to amend. Riggs has appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit. It will be interesting to see what they do. Given the Ninth Circuit’s apparent loathing of 230(c)(1) and the district court’s goofy statutory reading, there is a non-trivial risk that the Ninth Circuit will do something crazy here.