The comments on the Reader‘s Clout City blog can get pretty rambunctious. Two months ago, James Sachay, former assistant commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Aviation, named the Reader as codefendant in a defamation suit because of one of them. The comment, dated January 31 and “signed” by Sachay, said in part:
“I am voting for Frank Coconate. I am sorry I challenged his petitions under false pretenses. I am sorry I stole money from Roman Pucinski. I am sorry I got illegal contracts for my son and acted criminally at O’Hare.”
Coconate was fired by the city two years ago from his job as a sewer safety worker. This past winter he donned the mantle of gadfly reformer taking on the machine and ran a failed race for Democratic committeeman in the 41st Ward. Sachay alleged in his suit that Coconate was the actual author of the blog post, though Coconate denies it; the Reader’s supposed offense was allowing it to appear.
But the Reader argued in its motion to dismiss that it enjoys immunity under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which draws a distinction between a publisher that selects what to publish and the proprietor of a public Web forum. This distinction holds even if the Web site provider makes some effort to police the site. (Someone here took down the offending comment sometime after it appeared.)
On June 3 the Reader was dismissed as a defendant in response to a new motion filed by Sachay. His amended suit against only Coconate will continue.
For more on Web forums and the law, check out my column on the tempest that followed a Tribune profile of violinist Rarchel Barton Pine.