Court Reinforces, And Even Expands, Site Owners' Immunity For Other People's Content
from the no-libel-for-you dept
A federal judge in Texas has ruled that Yahoo wasn't liable in a civil case for an child pornography online group set up and moderated by a user on its servers. The user's in jail on criminal charges stemming from the group, but a civil suit targeted the ISP with a variety of claims, though the judge ruled that Section 230 gave them immunity, even though it was alleged Yahoo had broken the law by hosting child porn. This means that people can't file civil cases against site owners or hosting providers, and use the allegation of criminal conduct as a way to get around Section 230. The law was also intended to foster self-regulation of obscene and illegal content by service providers, and immunity is an important aspect of that. Lawsuits often try to allege that if a service provider regulates any content on their servers, they're legally liable for all of it -- something that's wholly impractical, particularly for a service the size of Yahoo Groups. The judge rightly notes in the decision (PDF) that to allow suits on either basis (alleging criminal activity, or that any level of regulation creates liability) would have a chilling effect on online speech, which is something Congress didn't want to do in enacting the law. To do so would not just stifle online speech, but it would also stifle innovation -- since any sort of interactive or user-generated content could create an impossible level of legal liability for site owners.