Once Again, Helping A User Doesn't Take Away Section 230 Protections

from the a-little-reminder dept

One thing we often hear from folks is that Section 230 safe harbors only apply to service providers who do not actively participate in the services they provide. That is, some of our commenters insist that if you “moderate” or if you, as a service provider, are actively involved in what a user does, then Section 230 safe harbors do not apply. Yet, time and time again, courts have found this not to be the case. In the latest such example, Eric Goldman points us to a lawsuit filed against an online auction site, Proxibid, which apparently is similar to eBay, but the company is somewhat more involved in the auctions. That is, it reviews the auctioneers before letting them use the site, and in this particular case, a Proxibid employee apparently helped the company doing the selling unilaterally extend an auction. A bidder in that auction was upset about the unilateral extension, as well as the belief that the selling company was issuing shill bids to drive up the price. He sued both the seller and Proxiweb, and tried to claim that Proxiweb was liable, because its actions made Section 230’s safe harbors inapplicable.

Not so, according to the court:

Plaintiffs have essentially asserted that Proxibid is liable to them in tort for tortious interference with a contract, aiding and abetting a breach of a fiduciary duty, negligence, unfair trade practices, and conversion because Proxibid allegedly helped Danhauer deprive Plaintiffs of the items for which they were the highest bidder in the auction at 4:00 a.m. Plaintiffs’ sole bases for maintaining these claims against Proxibid arise from Proxibid’s facilitation of Danhauer’s reopening of the auction and Proxibid’s alleged failure to thwart Danhauer’s efforts to bid in its own auction in violation of the website rules. Plaintiffs do not dispute the fact that Proxibid is a website service provider, much like Ebay. Plaintiffs also do not dispute that Danhauer was responsible for conducting all aspects of the auction. There is no evidence that Proxibid posted any information or conducted any actions other than those provided by or at the direction of Danhauer. In this case, Proxibid is nothing more than an interactive computer service provider and cannot be held liable for the information and actions originating from Danhauer. Accordingly, Proxibid is also entitled to the immunity provided under the CDA, and Plaintiffs may not pursue the tort claims in their Complaint against Proxibid.

Yet another reminder that Section 230 safe harbors still apply, even if the service provider is somewhat more involved. There are, obviously, some limits to that involvement, but if it’s merely moderating, or following the requests of users, it appears that the safe harbors remain — as they should.

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Comments on “Once Again, Helping A User Doesn't Take Away Section 230 Protections”

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1 Comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Common Carrier Immunity is not Section 230

I think the source of the confusion on this matter for some people stems from the immunity that telephone companies enjoy outside of section 230 as communications “common carriers”. Under common carrier status, monitoring and filtering communications is not allowed and doing so could be argued to jeopardize one’s common carrier status and thus the immunity accorded under it. However, section 230 is an entirely different animal and not based on common carrier status at all. Thus, actions that might jeopardize a common carrier’s immunity have no effect on service providers under section 230.

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