Go Daddy Sued Over Revenge-Porn Site

8:38 AM, Feb 7, 2013   |    comments
A 2012 GoDaddy Super Bowl ad features race car driver Danica Patrick. Photo: GoDaddy.com
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PHOENIX, Az. (USA TODAY) -- Go Daddy has been named lead defendant in a Texas lawsuit filed by 17 women whose nude photos were published without their permission on a "revenge porn" website hosted by the Scottsdale-based company.

The lawsuit exposes an obscure Internet pornography niche that often involves jilted ex-boyfriends posting nude or semi-nude cellphone pictures of their former girlfriends, with each photo usually accompanied by personal information such as the woman's name and city of residence.

Regardless of the lawsuit's merits, legal analysts said, it's unlikely the case will stand against Go Daddy, which merely hosted revenge-porn site Texxxan.com. Go Daddy hosts roughly 50 million websites.

Texxxan.com, the website accused of conspiring with Go Daddy to invade the women's privacy and intentionally cause them emotional and financial harm, appeared to be offline Wednesday.

Archived pages from the site, available at archive.org, show that in December, dozens of nude and semi-nude pictures of Texas women were posted publicly along with personal information such as partial or full name and city of residence.

Visitors to the website also could post comments about each woman and rate her on a scale of 1 to 5.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 18 in the District Court of Orange County, Texas, lists 17 individual plaintiffs led by 32-year-old Texas resident Hollie Toups, and it names GoDaddy.com and Texxxan.com as defendants.

"These plaintiffs seek to recover their actual damages that include their severe mental anguish and emotional distress with physical manifestations that affect their daily lives and routines, humiliation, fear and other non-economic damages, and also their economic damages," the lawsuit states.

Go Daddy spokeswoman Elizabeth Driscoll said the company does not comment on pending litigation, but legal experts said the case against Go Daddy is extremely weak.

"That's just a complete non-starter," said Patrick Luff, visiting assistant professor of law at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 clearly protects Web-hosting companies such as Go Daddy from liability for the content of their customers' websites, Luff said.

"The people hosting the website are not responsible for what's on the website," he said.

Luff said Go Daddy most likely will file -- and be granted -- a motion to be dismissed from the case.

Plaintiffs' attorneys John Morgan and E. Hart Green, both of Beaumont, Texas, state in their complaint that Go Daddy is listed as a defendant under the "doctrine of civil conspiracy" because it profited from the activities of Texxxan.com.

However, Luff said, it's not even clear whether the plaintiffs could successfully sue the revenge-porn website. He said they might have to go after the individuals who posted their photos in order to have a viable case.

Even then, the outcome would depend largely on details such as whether the plaintiffs had consented to having their photos taken in the first place, Luff said.

In any event, he said, the reason for including Go Daddy in the lawsuit isn't difficult to guess.

"If they win, they're much more likely to get some cash out of it if Go Daddy is involved in the lawsuit," Luff said.

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