US Government 'Suspends' JotForm.com Over User Generated Forms; Censorship Regime Expands

from the not-cool dept

One of the key principles behind the growth of the internet was belief in protection against secondary liability claims. That is, if you set up a website where users can post stuff, the people who post stuff are liable for the content -- not you as the service provider in the middle. This is the core purpose behind Section 230 of the CDA (and, to a lesser extent) the DMCA's safe harbors. But there are some loopholes where technically there are no official safe harbors (though common sense says you still shouldn't be liable). The website JotForm.com, which allows individuals to create their own forms easily, has had its main domain, jotform.com "suspended" by the US government, due to "an ongoing investigation." Because of this JotForm is forcing all of its users to change their forms to use their .net domain rather than their .com.
Many people on the comments assumed the content was posted by us. This can happen to any site that allows public to post content. SOPA may not have passed, but what happened shows that it is already being practiced. All they have to do is to ask GoDaddy to take a site down. We have 2 millions user generated forms. It is not possible for us to manually review all forms. This can happen to any web site that allows user generated content.
I'm at a loss as to how this possibly makes sense. Even if the forms were being used for some illegal purpose (and it's important to note that Section 230 does not apply to criminal activity -- just civil offenses), I still can't fathom a reason why it should lead to everyone else getting censored and an internet startup facing a massive hardship wherein tons of users have had their service disrupted with millions of useful forms being suddenly disappeared.

And I won't even bother spending any time on the fact that apparently it was GoDaddy who helped the US government "suspend" the domain.

For a government that insists it's trying to help small businesses and startups, to go and disrupt one and all of its users over some possible illegal usage by a small number of users is just crazy. It's this kind of overly broad censorship (and, yes, this is clear censorship) that is what people were afraid of under SOPA. As JotForm notes, it's important to recognize that the US government already believes it has these powers. And the damage here for a small business is massive. JotForm has been filling its Twitter feed with customer service attempts at helping upset customers, and making it clear it has no information on why the .com disappeared. It looks like the US government asked, and GoDaddy just took away the domain. If you've never worked for a startup, perhaps you can't imagine just how insanely disruptive and destructive such a situation can be. Everyone is so busy working and building a company -- but something like this means suddenly all of their time has to switch over to help all of those upset customers (and doing so without being able to use the site that everyone will go look at first!).

Activities like this will chill innovation and entrepreneurship in the US. Why locate here or even setup under a .com if the US government might kill your business with no explanation at any moment?

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  1. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 16 Feb 2012 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Arrgh@!

    "mentioned censorship in this deal. Are you saying that shutting down illegal activity is censorship?"

    Shutting down a web site is not censorship if done correctly. Shutting down over 300,000 pages because several of them are doing something illegal is called prior restraint.

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