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There's A Good Reason Why Online Sites Shouldn't Be Liable For The Actions Of Its Users

from the not-this-again dept

Over the years, we've had plenty of stories concerning the liability of websites when users post defamatory or libelous content. The law (section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) is pretty clear, keeping site owners free of liability for the actions of their users. However, as yet another such case comes to light, this time in California, it seems like many people misunderstand why the law is written this way. That article has a typical quote from someone who doesn't seem to understand why the law is written this way, saying: "While protection to ferret out the truth is nice, I kind of wish the courts or Congress would revisit this law. It bothers me to run content online that is clearly defamatory but to get to say it's OK because we can't get sued. It's like a legal neener-neener." That statement is wrong. The law does not say "it's OK." What it does is make it clear who is liable: the individual who actually made the defamatory statements. That's all it's saying. It doesn't make sense for the owner of the site to be liable, since they are not the ones who are making the libelous statements. They may be easier to target and easier to sue, but they aren't the ones who made the statement, and thus, they should not be liable. So, this isn't a case where the law is "different" because "it's the internet" or where one side gets a free pass. The law simply clarifies that the liability for libel should be on those who actually made the libelous statement.

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  1. identicon
    Cleverboy, 10 Sep 2006 @ 7:56am

    It's Simple, but not THAT Simple

    It's true, online sites should not be liable for "libel" charges concerning the actions of its users, BUT at the same time, under certain circumstances (not all) there has to be some related liability there, if they are made aware of blossoming problems with content publishing abuse and willfully look the other way.

    It's easy to confuse whether someone is liable for a libel charge, and whether they have liability at all for the actions of their users. That is a much more murkier topic.

    I'd imagine that if YouTube didn't have a "hate speech" clause in its TOS, or if they didn't reserve the right not to host certain videos, there would be many lawsuits if they turned the other way on video "How to Guides" on, for instance, how to go about harming individuals with ethnicities or races the poster doesn't like.

    What if some teenager films poisoning themselves or some other delayed act of suicide and posts it on one of these services before they actually die? There's a certain point where responsible service providers are compelled to act short of the point where they would meet a legal challenge.

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