November 29, 2006
California Supreme Court Rules Bloggers and Other Web Information Content Providers Not Liable for Republishing Statements That May Be Defamatory
In a victory for bloggers, newsgroup participants and other Web publishers, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday that individual Internet users cannot be held liable for republishing defamatory statements written by others.
Citing First Amendment concerns the Court said holding bloggers liable for republished material "would provide a natural incentive to simply remove messages upon notification, chilling the freedom of Internet speech." The Court's ruling was also based on the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which exempts Internet content providers from traditional publisher's liability and distributor's liability. This broad immunity is found in Sec. 230 of the Act (47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1)) which states in pertinent part:
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
The Court observed that
Congress implemented its intent not by maintaining the common law distinction between “publishers” and “distributors,” but by broadly shielding all providers from liability for “publishing” information received from third parties. Congress contemplated self-regulation, rather than regulation compelled at the sword point of tort liability. It chose to protect even the most active Internet publishers, those who take an aggressive role in republishing third party content. It would be anomalous to hold less active “distributors” liable upon notice. Thus, the immunity conferred by section 230 applies even when self-regulation is unsuccessful, or completely unattempted.
Text of the opinion. [RJ & JH]
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