New York Business Lawyers

New York and other Online Businesses—Yet Another Ruling Holds you are Likely Not Liable for Defamation between Users, even if You’re the Hosting Company

by / Wednesday, 11 August 2010 / Published in Technology & eCommerce

The case: Johnson v. Arden (8th Cir. August 4, 2010).  The holding: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act insulates a web site operator from the defamatory actions of its users.

In this case, a pair of exotic cat breeders sued the hosting company, InMotion Hosting, among others for the defamatory comments of other users on libel magnet Complaintsboard.com (I would love to know exactly what meanies say to cat breeders).

The case was dismissed outright in federal court under the now oft invoked, oft maligned (by users) Communications Decency Act at 47 U.S.C. §230 (“230”).  What’s somewhat new here is that the shield that 230 provides to online ventures was expressly extended to their hosting companies as well.  When up for appeal the Eighth Circuit came down the same way.  And though 230 is 14 years old, with many similar decisions across the nation, this was a novel decision for the Eighth Circuit.

230, the great liability shield, states  that “[n]o 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.”  If it sounds broad, that’s because it is broad.  And accordingly, the plaintiffs here unsuccessfully made the argument that host really is a “publisher” of sorts and that Missouri law allowed for joint liability.

The court declined to buy into the argument, instead adopting the Fourth Circuit’s holding in Nemet Chevrolet v. Consumeraffiars.com, sparing the host from being lumped in with the defaming parties.  This was mostly due to the absence of a dispute over whether the host originated the defamatory content.

Hence the Eight Circuit now firmly joins the majority of its sister courts by extending 230’s shield to 3rd party intermediaries.

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