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Pastor Loses Suit Over Gay-Conversion Videos on Vimeo

A federal magistrate threw out a discrimination suit against Vimeo from a California pastor who says he is the product of gay-conversion therapy.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal magistrate threw out a discrimination suit against Vimeo from a California pastor who says he is the product of gay-conversion therapy.

The 1996 Communications Decency Act immunizes service providers like Vimeo for the things people post on their sites. There are two types of immunity under Section 230 of the law, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stewart Aaron explained, publisher immunity and immunity to “police content.” 

The latter means Vimeo, as long as it’s acting in good faith, can remove content it perceives to be “considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.” 

In the lawsuit by California pastor James Domen, the court found, Vimeo is protected under both types of immunity. 

“In this case, Vimeo plainly was acting as a ‘publisher’ when it deleted (or, in other words, withdrew) plaintiffs’ content on the Vimeo website,” Aaron wrote in his 22-page decision. 

Robert Tyler, a lawyer for Domen, expressed disappointment with the ruling in a phone interview Wednesday, though he maintained he had not yet read it.

“The decision is very concerning, along with other cases that have addressed the Communications Decency Act, because they give the ability for social media platforms and other related websites to be completely immune for liability when they engage in intentional acts of discrimination toward protected classes,” said Tyler.

Among a library of 89 videos, Domen and his California-based nonprofit Church United were told that they had violated Vimeo’s terms of service for five uploads that promoted “sexual orientation change efforts.”

When Domen refused to delete the videos, Vimeo shut down his account in December 2018. Domen in turn accused the website of censorship and viewpoint discrimination. He also claimed Vimeo censored him because of his sexual orientation, which he describes as “former homosexual.”

Aaron disagreed.

“Vimeo’s emails … reflect that Vimeo removed plaintiffs’ account because of the content of plaintiffs’ videos, not based upon Domen’s sexuality or religion,” he wrote. 

Vimeo bans users from extolling purported gay-conversion therapy, and Domen also failed to show that it had acted in bad faith when it shut down his account, Aaron found. 

Rather than deleting his client’s account, Tyler said Vimeo could have removed only the five videos to which it objected. 

“Instead of removing content, they removed the individual from Vimeo,” he said. 

In a November motion to dismiss, Michael Cheah, an attorney for Vimeo, said it would upend more than two decades’ worth of decisions to now interpret the Communications Decency Act as not providing immunity from liabilities arising from deletion and exclusion.

While Vimeo has banned videos promoting conversion therapy, such content is still allowed on the dominant global video-hosting site YouTube.

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