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Old 07-12-2008, 12:53 AM   #1
Tenebrae
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The PG13 Dilemma

Hey all.

I have done a fair amount of net research on this, but so far not found any real, concrete legal information outside of opinions on the matter (which I am still interested in hearing, though I hope to avoid arguments about the morality of in-game sex and violence, I believe there's already threads here that discuss that).

Basically-- I am new to game-making, and am really having a dilemma about what to do as far as PG13 and mature content (sex, extreme violence, etc) goes.

I'd like to protect underage players from stuff that might warp thier lil minds and certainly do not wish to creative an environment where they -could- be at risk from perverts, but also give options for older folks to have relative freedom of creative play.

I'm not all about allowing random ucky cybersex, but I recognise too that there's sometimes a need to have characters play out something more than holding hands, or develop a romantic scene beyond the fade-to-black stage. Sort of an MA-rating, if we were talking movies. Too, some players like to rp extremely gorey stuff, which I don't really want kiddlies being exposed to (I'm a parent, it has made me more concerned about that sort of thing).

I would prefer to limit play to over-16's.

I -am- concerned about the actual legal standing on this issue. I would hate to have to say "we can't allow 16-17 year olds, because we have mature rp areas and I don't want to get sued by parents, even if thier kids can't get into those areas unless they have blatantly lied about thier age." I am happy to, if there's no choice, make it all PG13, or all mature. I'm just looking for clear information --and-- opinions on whether having a game with restricted map areas is gonna open me to being sued.


My questions are these, and they pertain to pure text RPG's:

1: What is the actual. legal liability for game owners as far as exposure to mature content goes? Here, I mean: if we have a 'mature' rating, and despite all precautions being taken to ensure players -are- mature age, some 13-year old lies, cybers and we get irate parents wanting to sue.

2: I -do- understand the PG13 rating, and what that entails. Is there an MA level that would limit players to 16 and over?

-- If so, what are the legalities of that?

-- If not, does having mature areas in the game make it not able to be classified PG13 at all?


I guess my ideal is:

An MA-rated game, open to over-16's only, where sex might be played at a sort of Mills & Boon level (ie, sex can be played out tastefully but NO gross profanity, gratuitious porn, ooc-motivated yucko cybering, etc), and where violence can be fairly graphic.

Without breaking any laws pertaining to minors. I don't really want under-16's, but don't want to exclude the 16-17 year olds.


Sorry if this is overly babblish, or a stupid question to bring up. I am a total newb. ><
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Old 07-12-2008, 02:27 AM   #2
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

Sued? You're kidding right?

You're actually protected. You can't be sued. It would get thrown out of court. The reason is there is a law that states something along the lines of Internet based User Content can't be used against the publisher. Meaning that you can't sue someone who runs a forum if someone on the site said something you didn't agree with. It also means that you can not sue the makers of a MUD when a user does something perverted.

I've run muds including ones that were really popular with tons of people on and while "Mud Sex," did happen between two consenting idiots (they know who they are) I've never once heard of anything perverted with kids involved. I don't think the people out looking for kids to prey on are using MUDs. Why? Because most Mudders are older than your average gamer.

Even back in the 90s when more kids were playing I never witnessed anything you're afraid of.

Also PG-13 is impossible for a MUD unless you code out the cuss words from being said by players or emoted or what not. I mean PG-13 only allows the use of the F-Bomb once in a film and under some pretty strict guidelines. You can say the F-Bomb or F-you but can't call someone a F-er. It's weird (and stupid).

On another note: The types that participate in mud sex generally don't do it in the open for others to witness.

I really think you're way too worried about the subject.
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Old 07-12-2008, 02:39 PM   #3
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
You're actually protected. You can't be sued.
You can always be sued and unless it's an absolutely outrageous lawsuit, it won't just be tossed out of court.

Quote:
The reason is there is a law that states something along the lines of Internet based User Content can't be used against the publisher.
Viacom is currently suing YouTube over user-posted content on YouTube's site.

Quote:
Meaning that you can't sue someone who runs a forum if someone on the site said something you didn't agree with. It also means that you can not sue the makers of a MUD when a user does something perverted.
In the American legal system, you can sue someone for virtually anything. Doesn't mean you'll win, but you'd certainly be able to sue someone for that kind of thing.

Quote:
I've run muds including ones that were really popular with tons of people on and while "Mud Sex," did happen between two consenting idiots (they know who they are) I've never once heard of anything perverted with kids involved. I don't think the people out looking for kids to prey on are using MUDs. Why? Because most Mudders are older than your average gamer.
There are plenty of teens playing MUDs.


Quote:
Also PG-13 is impossible for a MUD unless you code out the cuss words from being said by players or emoted or what not. I mean PG-13 only allows the use of the F-Bomb once in a film and under some pretty strict guidelines. You can say the F-Bomb or F-you but can't call someone a F-er. It's weird (and stupid).
PG-13 is a rating system for movies by the MPAA and has no applicability to games. The ESRB rates games and there is a Teen rating, but all games ratings for games that include an online component note that the rating may change during online play (since nobody can control what other users will do). In other words, what users do has no effect on a games' rating at this time.

I'd agree that the OP is overly worried. I'm not aware of any text MUD ever having been successfully sued (or even unsuccessfully) for anything like what he's concerned with. That's not to say it couldn't happen but if someone is going to get sued for sex talk over a network it's a lot more likely to be a big juicy target like Facebook or WoW.
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Old 07-12-2008, 05:19 PM   #4
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by the_logos View Post
You can always be sued and unless it's an absolutely outrageous lawsuit, it won't just be tossed out of court.
Communications Decency Act - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

It's called the Communications Decency Act, and YES it does protect people who run muds from just such law suits. Technically you can sue anyone, but they DO get thrown out of court.

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Viacom is currently suing YouTube over user-posted content on YouTube's site.
Entirely different. Viacom is suing YouTube for inappropriately allowing copyrighted content. YouTube's defense is the Communications Decency Act and it likely will go to the Supreme Court. How they decide to view the CDA will determine the future of such lawsuits. Unfortunately, it appears from reading the CDA that YouTube can't be held liable.

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In the American legal system, you can sue someone for virtually anything. Doesn't mean you'll win, but you'd certainly be able to sue someone for that kind of thing.
Right but, if it is thrown out of court (and it likely would be) then the defendent can counter-sue and get their legal fees taken care of by the original suer.

I don't think a smart lawyer would take the case unless the idiot (see suer) just wanted to throw their money away.

The fact is the CDA protects the Publisher from users who participate in inappropriate behavior.
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Old 07-13-2008, 10:18 AM   #5
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

Thankyou both for your thoughts and information, I really appreciate it.

I think my over-concern is a consequence of my current rp atmosphere, which has very, very strict PG13 rules (with cusswords coded out), and has attracted a few truly creepy sorts over the years, likely due to a high number of young players in the mix. But tbh the place pretty much runs on histrionics, so advice given there was full of warnings about interpol and lawyers and liability when I said I would allow -some- level of mature play w/o rigid pornsite-worthy +18 restrictions. Kind of got me worried. ><

And oddly, there's constant (sometimes hilariously graphic) and at times quite public cybering going on there. Admin are always dishing out punishments for it (offenders are given permanent, visible venereal diseases). Maybe the prohibitive atmosphere appeals to thrillseekers? lol. Though I think that most of the offenders are in thier early teens is no coincidence.

Once more, thanks for your time.

Last edited by Tenebrae : 07-13-2008 at 10:24 AM.
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Old 07-13-2008, 02:54 PM   #6
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

How are you defining "thrown out of court."

A term like that generally implies that as soon as the judge reads the complaint, he or she deems it frivolous and dismisses it with (or without) prejudice.

That is very uncommon, and if a case has even a shred of potential legitimacy a judge won't do that.

If you are defining "thrown out of court" as a defendant successfully winning a motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff, then that is far more common. That is what would likely happen in a situation like the OP describes, but it is no guarantee. And it still costs you money and time to make this motion, argue it, and win it.

While I believe the OP is worrying overmuch, one should not so leisurely dismiss the costs, inconveniences, and potential hassles ANY law suit entails.
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Old 07-13-2008, 11:04 PM   #7
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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How are you defining "thrown out of court."

A term like that generally implies that as soon as the judge reads the complaint, he or she deems it frivolous and dismisses it with (or without) prejudice.

That is very uncommon, and if a case has even a shred of potential legitimacy a judge won't do that.
It's actually not that uncommon if your lawyer immediately makes the motion and correctly cites the reason why it should be dismissed. In this case there is precedent and besides mentioning the CDA a lawyer can point to previous cases involving web sites.

This actually isn't that uncommon. When there are Acts that protect our rights and someone wants to sue us against that Act, they USUALLY do get dismissed.
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Old 07-14-2008, 03:17 AM   #8
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
This actually isn't that uncommon. When there are Acts that protect our rights and someone wants to sue us against that Act, they USUALLY do get dismissed.
I am not sure what your source is for this information, but it actually is indeed very uncommon for a case to just get "thrown out of court." It is considered contrary to public policy to not give someone their "day in court", and thus judges are extremely reluctant to just toss something as frivolous without a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgement from the other side.

My personal experience with this is from actually practicing law. I have not done so for almost 10 years, but I still keep up with the profession, still have a lot of close friends who are lawyers, and work with our company's lawyers on a very regular basis.

Just so there is no misinterpretation: I still believe the OP is worrying over something that is very unlikely to ever be a problem. If he did have to defend himself, he would be on very strong legal ground (most likely). But an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

This post is not legal advice. Nobody should get legal advice from a gaming forum. I am only interjecting this because it is dangerous (and potentially costly) for people to operate under the assumption they can just walk into court, cite the DMCA or the CDA and blow out of there.
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Old 07-14-2008, 03:53 AM   #9
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by Threshold View Post

Just so there is no misinterpretation: I still believe the OP is worrying over something that is very unlikely to ever be a problem. If he did have to defend himself, he would be on very strong legal ground (most likely). But an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
This is what I'm interested in too-- what sort of prevention?

Quote:
This post is not legal advice. Nobody should get legal advice from a gaming forum.
Oh-- I wasn't. More trying to discern whether there were existing laws and precedents that might save me organising a lawyer's advice (and cost).
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Old 07-14-2008, 08:48 AM   #10
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

An ounce of prevention could be a BIG HUGE WARNING LABEL on the front of the website's main page, that reads something like this (in all caps, but I won't do that here):

Warning: This game is intended to be enjoyed by players over the age of 16. We at Acme MUD company do NOT (underline) promote adult-style behavior, this is NOT (underline) an adult-themed game. However we acknowledge the difficulty in policing the activities of underage players, and even in identifying them, and therefore we urge parents to be aware of the activities of their own minor children.

Thank you. Sincerely,
Acme MUD company
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Old 07-14-2008, 11:06 AM   #11
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by Jazuela View Post
An ounce of prevention could be a BIG HUGE WARNING LABEL on the front of the website's main page, that reads something like this (in all caps, but I won't do that here):

Warning: This game is intended to be enjoyed by players over the age of 16. We at Acme MUD company do NOT (underline) promote adult-style behavior, this is NOT (underline) an adult-themed game. However we acknowledge the difficulty in policing the activities of underage players, and even in identifying them, and therefore we urge parents to be aware of the activities of their own minor children.

Thank you. Sincerely,
Acme MUD company
(Standard disclaimer here: I am not a lawyer. Seek legal help in your area for proper answers.)

We have the standard "This Game is Intended for Mature Audiences. Game Experience May Change During Online Play." on the main page, and a simple Terms of Service that a lawyer-friend of mine looked over for free.

In a text-based world you can block words (we don't, currently). You can have rules (some will break them anyway). You could log everyone and have somone read through the logs (lyrics of "Bertha" by the Grateful Dead "Not a job for me" come to mind). Short of requiring credit cards or other ID forms there is little you can do to police age, or interactions between those of variant ages. Other then a set, consistent rule-set with penalties (from talking to, bans, IP bans, proxy bans, list goes on and on...) there is little you can do to stop behaviors that may be deemed inappropriate for minors.

So it often comes down to the game using the "CYOA" (cover your own "backside") strategy to make sure that you have warned the potential user that you do not provide or police all content, and that the game is for mature audiences.
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Old 07-14-2008, 11:27 AM   #12
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
It's called the Communications Decency Act, and YES it does protect people who run muds from just such law suits. Technically you can sue anyone, but they DO get thrown out of court.
Our legal team disagrees with your interpretation. They believe it'd certainly be possible for a MUD operator to be successfully sued for the communications of players in some contexts, though those contexts would largely be established by a pattern of behavior on the part of the MUD operator (for instance, tacitly encouraging young players to share real-life details with each other on top of a sexualized environment, etc).

Quote:
Entirely different. Viacom is suing YouTube for inappropriately allowing copyrighted content. YouTube's defense is the Communications Decency Act and it likely will go to the Supreme Court. How they decide to view the CDA will determine the future of such lawsuits. Unfortunately, it appears from reading the CDA that YouTube can't be held liable.
In other words, you believe it's so unclear to experts-as-a-whole that it has to go to the Supreme Court to get clarity. Not exactly black & white, as I said.


Quote:
The fact is the CDA protects the Publisher from users who participate in inappropriate behavior.
Ok. Attorneys whom I've retained for advice on exactly this topic disagree that it's so clear-cut. It's dangerous to rely on Wikipedia or a layman's reading of legal code for advice on a particular situation.

--matt
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Old 07-14-2008, 11:32 AM   #13
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by Jazuela View Post
An ounce of prevention could be a BIG HUGE WARNING LABEL on the front of the website's main page, that reads something like this (in all caps, but I won't do that here):

Warning: This game is intended to be enjoyed by players over the age of 16. We at Acme MUD company do NOT (underline) promote adult-style behavior, this is NOT (underline) an adult-themed game. However we acknowledge the difficulty in policing the activities of underage players, and even in identifying them, and therefore we urge parents to be aware of the activities of their own minor children.

Thank you. Sincerely,
Acme MUD company
Yup, that's a good start, as is Mabus's suggestion. Another simple, cost-effective "ounce of prevention" is to require players to agree to a Terms of Service that specifically prohibits behaviors you might be worried about and which requires the player to state that he or she is over X age (over 13 if you're collecting personal info in the US, at minimum, but for the OP's game sounds like he's ok with over 16 or over 18.)

Again, as Threshold said, the risk is really very low for a hobbyist (or even a commercial) text MUD but there are cheap ways to reduce your risk even further, so why not avail yourself of them.
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Old 07-14-2008, 01:00 PM   #14
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Our legal team disagrees with your interpretation. They believe it'd certainly be possible for a MUD operator to be successfully sued for the communications of players in some contexts, though those contexts would largely be established by a pattern of behavior on the part of the MUD operator (for instance, tacitly encouraging young players to share real-life details with each other on top of a sexualized environment, etc).
I don't think your legal team disagrees with my interpretation. I think the scenario you just posted would pretty much cancel the CDA's umbrella protection. However, the OP didn't say "I'm a pervert who will be breaking the law and need protection." The OP said "I want to make sure I'm not liable for any pervert who may login." If all you are doing is publishing a MUD and not promoting bad behavior (and lets be honest who really would) you are safe. A simple motion of dismissal and it's tossed.

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Originally Posted by the_logos View Post
In other words, you believe it's so unclear to experts-as-a-whole that it has to go to the Supreme Court to get clarity. Not exactly black & white, as I said.
This is only because the CDA likely wasn't meant to protect copyright infringement. However, it was meant to protect people exactly from what the OP asked about.

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Originally Posted by the_logos View Post
Ok. Attorneys whom I've retained for advice on exactly this topic disagree that it's so clear-cut. It's dangerous to rely on Wikipedia or a layman's reading of legal code for advice on a particular situation.
Like you I went to someone about this topic not too far back. The person I went to was a US District Court Judge. The CDA DOES protect muds from user behavior as long as you're being a responsible administrator.

You and others have pointed out how the OP can be a responsible administrator.

Plus we all know they'd sue you first Matt! The fact that you've never had that trouble I think speaks loudly. Generally those with money are sued vs those without.
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Old 07-14-2008, 04:22 PM   #15
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
The OP said "I want to make sure I'm not liable for any pervert who may login." If all you are doing is publishing a MUD and not promoting bad behavior (and lets be honest who really would) you are safe. A simple motion of dismissal and it's tossed.
When you make blanket absolute statements like that is where you go wrong. You can't simply say "You are safe." You are never absolutely safe from litigation. Even if you can win, the costs and hassles can still be enormous.

That is why you take preventative steps in advance. Some of the examples already given in this thread are a good start.

But it is irresponsible to tell people they are simply "safe" or that any law suit would be "thrown out of court."

People should know and understand the risks they are undertaking in any endeavor. If you run a mud, you do risk the possibility of litigation from a sufficiently disgruntled user. The more risk factors you add to your game (like sexual or adult content), the higher your risk of litigation. Most of us believe the chances are small, and the odds of losing even smaller, but that does not completely eliminate the risk altogether. And it certainly does not mean people should just ignore the risks and not take precautions.

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Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
Like you I went to someone about this topic not too far back. The person I went to was a US District Court Judge. The CDA DOES protect muds from user behavior as long as you're being a responsible administrator.
Strange you would only mention this now. Which judge was that? For legal advice, consulting an attorney is vastly superior to consulting a judge. Judges frequently defer to clerks to actually research new areas of law. Attorneys have to keep up with the law themselves in order to give appropriate, profitable advice (or else they would have no clients). But this risks going off on a pointless tangent akin to a "battle of the experts."
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Old 07-14-2008, 05:12 PM   #16
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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When you make blanket absolute statements like that is where you go wrong. You can't simply say "You are safe." You are never absolutely safe from litigation. Even if you can win, the costs and hassles can still be enormous.
So far since the CDA was in place NO WEB SITE or MUD has lost a law suit when CDA was used as defense. I'd say that is pretty damn strong. Forums and many other types including MMORPGs have been sued. No one has won against them yet, and most to my knowledge got dismissed because of the CDA.

Fact is that a halfway decent lawyer will get it dismissed immediately and the costs won't be too bad, and you will be entitled to counter-sue to get your money back.

That is as long you're being responsible. As many people have mentioned there are Disclaimers you can post and even Terms of Service (even if this likely wouldn't stand up in a court of law). The disclaimers and ToS will help you feel better. However, they won't protect you. The CDA will. Lawyers can argue that your Disclaimer or ToS wasn't good enough, etc. They can't argue too much about the CDA because there has been precedence. Currently I know of only piracy/copy protect issues going on where they're trying to say the CDA doesn't protect the Publisher. However, the issues brought up by the OP HAVE been covered and there is precedence.

Bottom line is unless you're the perv, you're protected as a publisher. There aren't many lawyers who would advise someone to go through with the lawsuit. That is the reason there have been so few.
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Old 07-16-2008, 05:31 AM   #17
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Re: The PG13 Dilemma

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Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
So far since the CDA was in place NO WEB SITE or MUD has lost a law suit when CDA was used as defense.
Without a legal citation, this is pure conjecture.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
I'd say that is pretty damn strong. Forums and many other types including MMORPGs have been sued. No one has won against them yet, and most to my knowledge got dismissed because of the CDA.
Yeah, nobody successfully sued "Big Tobacco" until someone won a gigantic class action judgement worth millions of dollars. Seriously, this kind of Kruschevian shoe banging might make you feel better, but it is a gross misstatement of how the law operates.


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Fact is that a halfway decent lawyer will get it dismissed immediately and the costs won't be too bad, and you will be
Yeah, a couple thousand bucks and you're fine. You realize any "halfway decent lawyer" is going to make *at least* $150 an hour, and some charge more for court time. That means 6-7 hours of work and you are already over $1,000 in fees. Are you understanding yet that litigation is not something to ever be taken lightly - no matter how strong your case?


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That is as long you're being responsible.
Being responsible is what everyone else has been talking about. Taking precautions is being responsible. Blowing the issue off as "no big deal, the courts would just toss it" is being irresponsible.

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Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
However, they won't protect you. The CDA will.
That is a pretty absolute and bold claim. Are you willing to indemnify everyone reading this just in case it doesn't?

Quote:
Originally Posted by lotusofro View Post
Lawyers can argue that your Disclaimer or ToS wasn't good enough, etc. They can't argue too much about the CDA because there has been precedence.
Lawyers most certainly can argue against the CDA. They already have and they will continue to do so. They may not win, but the possibility exists. You can be certain that if a situation arises where the victim of sexual misconduct is a child, a good attorney can shop for the right judge to let the case go forward at least another step. Whether or not they win it still costs you time, money, and an enormous amount of hassle. And this isn't the UK. Generally, you can only sue for legal fees if it is mandated by statute. Unless you have a citation from the CDA stating such, you are almost certainly going to be responsible for your own fees. It is additionally irresponsible for you to state otherwise.

I have no idea why you insist on giving horrible, inaccurate, and absolute legal advice such as this. You are clearly not qualified, and you do not seem to understand that nothing is as absolute as you claim it is once you walk into a court room. You are always wise to try and avoid that situation as much as possible, and it is very UNWISE to put blind faith in a piece of legislation that can be struck down, overturned, or even rewritten at the whims of the judiciary or legislature.
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