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Federal law gives MySpace.com immunity from a lawsuit over the alleged sexual assault of a teenage girl by a man she met on the social networking Web site, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that a Texas girl's family filed against MySpace and its parent company, News Corp. The family said MySpace didn't protect young users from sexual predators.
The appeals court ruled that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 bars such lawsuits against Web-based services like MySpace. A federal judge in Austin, Texas, dismissed the $30 million lawsuit on the same grounds last year.
"Parties complaining that they were harmed by a Web site's publication of user-generated content have recourse; they may sue the third-party user who generated the content, but not the interactive computer service that enabled them to publish the content online," Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote in the ruling.
The girl's family argued in the appeal that MySpace isn't immune from liability because it partially creates the content of its profiles. The appeals court refused to consider that argument because it wasn't presented in district court.
The 5th Circuit also noted that the girl, identified in court papers as Julie Doe, circumvented the Web site's safety features when she lied about her age. The girl was 13 but misrepresented herself as 18 years old when she created a MySpace profile in 2005. MySpace requires its users to be at least 14.
The girl was 14 when authorities say a 19-year-old man she met on MySpace sexually assaulted her in a Texas parking lot. The man was later indicted on a sexual assault charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
MySpace applauded the court's ruling and said it "takes the safety and security of our members very seriously."
"However, a lawsuit against MySpace was not the appropriate way to redress any harm to Julie Doe," the company said. "We continue to make our site even safer by creating new features and educating our users about online safety."
Gregory Coleman, a lawyer for the girl's family, said he was disappointed but needed more time to review the ruling before he could comment.
Court sides with MySpace
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