Better Know A Statute: 47 U.S.C. § 230

Better Know A Statute: 47 U.S.C. § 230

Although much of 1996's Communications Decency Act was struck down as unconstitutional, one little Section That Could chugged on uphill to become an important safe haven against broad liability: Section 230. In the analog world, a person can be contributorily or vicariously liable for what someone else says or does; for example a publisher who reprints someone else's defamatory statements would be legally responsible. Recognizing the threat that those kinds of liability posed to the rapidly developing Internet, Congress enacted Section 230, which protects providers and users of “interactive computer services” from legal causes of action which would treat them as the speaker of content provided by a third party. What is an interactive computer service, you ask? It's anything from a traditional ISP to a website like YouTube to a public library which offers internet access. Though legislative history suggests that Congress only intended to immunize ISPs from liability for the things their customers did online, courts have interpreted the immunity broadly. Broadly enough that even the Something Awful Forums get protection from whatever offense the Goons dream up. As a paean to the lobbying power of the media conglomerates, however, Congress carved out intellectual property law (along with federal criminal law and electronic privacy statutes) from the immunity, so no dice calling on 230 to save your favorite torrent site.

 

Thumbnail image for this post courtesy of archie4oz.

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