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Raped Model’s Suit Against Website Revived

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - The Ninth Circuit on Tuesday revived claims against a model-networking site by a woman who two sexual predators drugged and raped her.

"This is a landmark decision for victims everywhere," Jeffrey Herman, who represented the woman, said in an email. "I hope that this decision will lead to a safer internet for everybody."

Jane Doe No. 14, as she is referred to in court documents, claims that she was the victim of a rape scheme in which two men used the Model Mayhem website to identify potential targets, whom they would lure to bogus casting calls in south Florida.

She says the men contacted her with fake identities as talent scouts and then used a date rape drug to put her in a semi-catatonic state, raped her, recorded the activity and then distributed it as pornography.

Doe sued the Model Mayhem website owner, Internet Brands, in 2012, claiming the company was liable because it knew from an outside source "as early as August 2010" how her alleged rapists had been using the site, and that they had faced criminal charges.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that it was barred by the Communications Decency Act, or CDA, which provides that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

After a hearing in April 2015, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision in a 17-page opinion issued Tuesday, holding that the CDA did not bar Doe's claim because she did not seek to hold Internet Brands liable as the sort of "publisher or speaker" protected by the law.

"Instead, Jane Doe attempts to hold Internet Brands liable for failing to warn her about information that it obtained from an outside source about how third parties targeted and lured victims through Model Mayhem," said Judge Richard Clifton, who authored the three-judge panel's opinion. "The duty to warn allegedly imposed by California law would not require Internet Brands to remove any user content or otherwise affect how it publishes or monitors such content."

For instance, Clifton said, the company could have warned Model Mayhem users by posting a notice on the website or informing users by email, since "a post or email warning that Internet Brands generated would involve only content that Internet Brands itself produced."

"Congress has not provided an all purpose get-out-of-jail-free card for businesses that publish user content on the Internet," Clifton wrote.

The panel did not rule on the merits of Doe's allegations, and it remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Internet Brands' arguing attorney Daniel Collins did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Tuesday morning.

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