(credit: Dennis Skley)

A federal appeals court is reviving a lawsuit targeting a website for models because the site did not warn users that there were rapists reading the site in search of their next victim. The Communications Decency Act (CDA), the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday, did not immunize the website Modelmayhem.com from a suit brought by an aspiring model who said she was drugged, raped, and filmed by two men during a phony 2011 audition.

Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, and other online companies had told the court (PDF) that such a ruling would have a chilling effect on the Web. In a court filing, they said that the CDA shields website operators "from the risks, burdens, and uncertainty of lawsuits that would hold them liable for hosting or facilitating online exchanges of third-party information that may result in harm."

But the federal appeals court, which issued a similar ruling in 2014 but set it aside to rehear the case again, wasn't buying the argument. The CDA, one of the foundational laws that has allowed the Internet to flourish, protects online outlets from legal liability for the content that third parties publish on it, the court noted. But here, the owner of the website, Internet Brands, had obtained knowledge that there were rapists who trolled the site for women, pretended they were agents, and raped and filmed the women who thought they were going for a job interview, the court ruled.

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