by Mike Masnick
Mon, Oct 15th 2007 12:58pm
Earlier this year, plenty of people were quite surprised by a ruling of the 9th Circuit that seemed to go against what almost every other court had said about the safe harbors provided to internet service providers for the actions of their users under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The case involved the website Roommates.com, which allows people (not surprisingly) to put up ads looking for roommates. The problem (according to the lawsuit) is that some people posting roommate ads included requests that could potentially violate the Fair Housing Act. Where the ruling got tricky was that it basically said section 230 protections existed only where structured data wasn't collected. However since Roommates.com offered both pulldown boxes and allowed users to search on certain characteristics, it was no longer protected by section 230. But this potentially opened up a ton of problems and had a variety of legal experts scratching their heads. So, it's no surprise that they're happy to see the 9th Circuit now toss that original ruling out, to be reheard by an 11 judge panel. No matter when that happens, the original ruling can no longer be used as a precedent. This is a good thing, as the safe harbors protecting service providers from the actions of their users is certainly a good thing -- and the net result if this ruling did stand is that fewer sites would be willing to accept any kind of structured data, for fear of losing their protection. Also, considering how confused various legal experts were after the original ruling, you have to figure that it's at least a good idea to take a second look and rethink or, at the very least, clarify the original ruling.
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