By Kevin O'Keefe

Judges making quick work of law suits versus social media providers

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is pretty simple. A service provider cannot be held liable for actions taken by people who use the service.

As Mike at TechDirt writes in his post that judges are quickly tossing out bogus Internet liability cases:

This makes fundamental sense (it’s almost too bad there even needs to be a law pointing it out), because what it’s saying is that you don’t blame whoever made the tool, you blame whoever used it. You don’t blame the telephone company if someone uses the telephone to commit a crime, and therefore you don’t blame the ISP or website when a user does something illegal as well.

And like Mike says it’s getting to the point where judges seem comfortable quickly dismissing such suits.

Eric Goldman points to a recent case where a user of MSN’s forums got upset about some messages on the forums and rather than going after those who made the statements, sued Microsoft. Microsoft filed a motion to dismiss per section 230 and, voila, case dismissed. Hopefully, this will start to become common practice so that the courts aren’t littered with these types of bogus cases much longer.

And Denise Howell picked up on last week’s Doe v. MySpace decision, where a federal district court in Texas threw out claims against MySpace due to the protections provided by Section 230.

Evan Brown, Denise’s source, described that case:

Julie Doe, the anonymous minor plaintiff, lied about her age (saying she was 18 when in fact she was only 13) when she signed up for a MySpace account. Later she met a 19-year-old man on the site, and the two started talking by telephone. They met-up in person, and Doe was assaulted.

Julie and her mother sued MySpace, claiming that it failed to take adequate precautions to protect Julie from the attack. The court through the case out holding that Section 230 created a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service.

Denise explained the added significance of Doe v MySpace.

  • It can only prove helpful (perhaps enormously so) to MySpace, which faces a slew of such claims.
  • The court’s application of Section 230 is novel, in that it concluded the statute immunizes a party against ‘real world physical injury relating to, but not directly resulting from, the publication of material on the Internet. as John Ottaviani puts it.
  • The decision may prompt legislators seeking to calm the nerves of concerned parents to question the wisdom of leaving Section 230 in the hands of so-called activist judges; Richard Koman thinks the decision puts the continued viability of Section 230, without which many Web businesses would fold under the weight of their liability for third party acts, in real jeopardy.

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Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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