Court Ruling: Section 230 Protects Sites... But Not Necessarily If They Promise To Remove Content

from the giving-up-your-safe-harbor dept

An interesting court ruling has added a wrinkle to section 230 safe harbors that protect a website from being liable for actions of its users. In this case, Yahoo was given immunity due to section 230, but may still be in trouble because a Yahoo employee promised to remove the content in question. The case involved a guy who posted profiles of his ex-girlfriend on Yahoo sites. The profiles in question included nude photos the ex-boyfriend had taken and her (real) contact info. He then posed as her in chat rooms and pointed men to her profile leading to numerous unwanted phone calls. Yahoo was apparently quite slow in responding to her complaints, but eventually someone promised to "take care of" the issue. However, two more months went by and nothing happened, so the woman sued (at which point the profiles were finally removed).

Now, it's pretty bad that Yahoo was slow to remove the profiles, but it still seems like the woman's case should have been against the ex-boyfriend who posted the profiles. That, of course, is the whole point of Section 230, so that the service/tool provider is not blamed for the actions of an individual, even though that individual is still responsible. There was some question over whether or not Section 230 still applied since this wasn't a defamation case, but the court (correctly) ruled that section 230 applies to much more than just defamation.

However, the more interesting part is that the court noted that since a Yahoo rep indicated she would "take care of" things, she may have established a separate "contract" outside of section 230 safe harbors, which was then violated. So... the lesson is, if you want to keep your safe harbors, don't promise stuff and fail to live up to it...
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Filed Under: contract, section 230
Companies: yahoo


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  1. identicon
    cybertelecom, 8 May 2009 @ 4:18am

    origins of 230

    Of course "taking care of it" is how 230 got its start. Service providers were trying to do the rite thing and getting punished for it. Before 230 (aka the communications decency act), prodigy try to make a family friendly chat room, monitoring posted content and deleting it where necessary. Well john doe got on prodigy, and defamed a fiancial institution. The fiancial onstitution could not sue john doe, so it sue prodigy. The court ruled, bc prodigy was doing the rite thing creating a safe zone for kidz, prodigy was acting like an editor and therefor was a publisher. As a publisher, prodigy is liable for published defamation.

    Lesson learned: don't protect children

    Congress's response: not! We congress like isps the work to protect children. Therefore congress passed 230 as a part of the communications decency act _ effectively putting isps in the position of common carries, not being legally liable for the content carried.

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