By MATT REYNOLDS
LOS ANGELES (CN) - A group dedicated to digital privacy rights has asked a federal judge to keep hold of an online auctioneer's blog-defamation claims, rejecting a bid to refile in Illinois where there are allegedly fewer free-speech protections against frivolous claims.
EDrop-off Chicago, a company owned by reality star Corri McFadden, filed suit last month in Los Angeles over posts that appeared on the message board for purseblog.com.
McFadden, appears on the VH1 reality show "House of Consignment," says her eBay business has faltered under "unauthorized attacks" and "cyberbulling" from the posts Nancy Burke allegedly made on PurseBlog.
Burke accused eDrop-off of "shill bidding" - a practice whereby a group of people bid on an item to artificially inflate its value, according to the complaint. A week later, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly in Chicago granted a restraining order that barrs Burke from making shill-bidding or rigging claims. But the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation says this is a matter for California courts.
A decision in McFadden's favor would "send a dangerous message," allowing plaintiffs to avoid a penalties against frivolous speech-chilling lawsuits simply by requesting dismissal and refiling in a state with more favorable laws, the June 1 brief states.
EFF senior staff attorney Marcia Hoffman says McFadden is trying to avoid the state's anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute, which discourages baseless lawsuits.
"The loss of these substantive protections will have the perverse effect of encouraging Purseblog and other online services (including those based in California and those located elsewhere but read by California residents) to censor themselves and their users to avoid the expense of having to defend against litigation in the future, even where the plaintiffs have no likelihood of prevailing on the merits," the 16-page brief states.
According to EFF, the 9th Circuit's interpretation of the federal Communications Decency Act includes strong protections for internet services like Purseblog to make "editorial decisions about third-party content without fear of legal action or liability."
"Congress decided that speakers - not their soapboxes - should be responsible for what they say," EFF attorney Matt Zimmerman said in a statement. "That's why the Internet hosts such an incredible diversity of content today. If sites could be held legally responsible for anything anyone said on them, no one would allow users to post controversial views online."