(CN) – Yahoo! is not immune from a lawsuit accusing the Internet company of failing to remove two bogus online profiles that a woman’s ex-boyfriend posted, the 9th Circuit ruled. The phony profiles contained nude photographs, purportedly solicited sex, and listed her actual work email, phone number and address.
Strangers responded to the profiles by peppering Cecilia Barnes’ office with emails, calls and personal visits, all in expectation of sex.
She sent Yahoo! a copy of her photo ID and a signed statement denying her involvement with the profiles, and asked the company to remove them.
But a month later, the profiles remained and Yahoo! failed to respond. Barnes sent three more letters asking Yahoo! to remove the profiles and again heard nothing.
It wasn’t until the day before a local news program aired a story on the incident that Yahoo! took action.
Yahoo’s director of communications allegedly told Barnes that she would “personally walk the statements over to the division responsible for stopping unauthorized profiles and they would take care of it.”
However, two more months passed without word from Yahoo! Barnes filed suit in Oregon state court, and the profiles disappeared from Yahoo’s Web site shortly thereafter.
Barnes accused Yahoo! of being negligent in the undertaking of its services and breaking its promise to remove the indecent profiles.
Yahoo! removed the action to federal court and successfully moved for dismissal, asserting immunity under the Communications Decency Act. The Act shields Internet service providers from liability over publication decisions.
The federal appeals court in San Francisco held that the Act precludes Barnes’ negligent-undertaking claim, because the claim involves Yahoo’s conduct as a publisher.
However, nothing in the law stops Barnes from suing Yahoo! over its alleged broken promise to remove the profiles, the court ruled.
“Promising is different, because it is not synonymous with the performance of the action promised,” Judge O’Scannlain wrote.
“[The Act] creates a baseline rule: no liability for publishing or speaking the content of other information service providers. Insofar as Yahoo made a promise with the constructive intent that it be enforceable, it has implicitly agreed to an alteration in such baseline.”
The court reversed in part and remanded.