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Section 230 On Appeal (47 USC 230(c)(1))

Archive for September 2007

Promoting online child safety – Regulate or Educate?

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If you are interested in alternative angles of attack on this issue, check out this post, which links to a non-regulatory approach to protecting minors online. Both were authored by Adam Thierer of The Progress & Freedom Foundation, and showcase two bills presently pending before Congress – S. 1965 and H.R. 3461.

[October 5, 2007 UPDATE from the P&FF blog].

Written by Michael Erdman

Friday, September 28, 2007 at 9:12 am

Section 230 protects search engine results, First Amendment inapplicable to private websites

with 4 comments

Last year William E. Murawski tried to get on the ballot as a candidate for Governor of New York. However he was eventually notified that his petition had been rejected for failure to satisfy a signature requirement. Undeterred, Mr Murawski filed a pro se suit in federal court against a number of New York state and city bodies and officials, asking the court to enjoin the election and have his name placed on the ballot. In the same suit he later challenged the constitutionality of the state election law itself.

This post focuses upon claims made by Murawski (“plaintiff”) against several private parties in the above action, all of which were dismissed yesterday by District Judge Richard J. Holwell of the Southern District of New York.

Ronald Gunzburger

Plaintiff alleges that Ronald Gunzburger declined to list plaintiff on his “influential political website,” Politics1.com, thereby violating plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. Noting Gunzburger and his website are private entities, the court disagreed.

Plaintiff also alleged that Gunzburger later defamed plaintiff “by placing plaintiff’s name in a list directly below a member of the Communist Party, causing plaintiff’s name to appear with the word “communist” on Google, Yahoo!, and Ask.com search engines.” The court found this claim “meritless,” noting that plaintiff’s

only allegation is that Gunzburger placed plaintiff’s name next to the name of another individual identified as a “Communist Political Organizer,” and, as a result, a search on his name using the Google, Yahoo!, and Ask.com search engines pulled up the Politics1.com website with a snippet of text showing his name immediately after the words “Communist Political Organizer.” Like most search engines, however, Ask.com does not display line or paragraph breaks that appear on the original source page, so anyone looking at a search engine result would have to follow the link to the source page to discover how the text was in fact presented.

Viewing the website page submitted to the court, which displayed the allegedly defamatory text, the court found that “[i]t is thus apparent that Gunzburger did not identify plaintiff as a communist on his website, and thus there is no basis for plaintiff’s claim against Gunzburger. The fact that various search engines displayed the text from Politics1.com without line breaks is not attributable to Gunzburger.”

As to Gunzburger’s motion for Rule 11 sanctions, the court ruled that “[w]hile plaintiff’s claims against Gunzburger are so completely without merit as to border on the vexatious, plaintiff may not have been aware or warned of the possible imposition of sanctions. Accordingly, the Court declines to impose sanctions at this time.”

Ask.com

Plaintiff requested that Ask.com remove Gunzburger’s website from its directory “because of the association of his name in Ask.com’s search results with the Communist Party.” IAC/Interactive Corp., the ultimate parent of Ask.com, filed a motion to dismiss on behalf of the website, asserting Section 230 barred plaintiff’s claim.

The court agreed, noting that Section 230 “immunizes internet service providers from defamation and other, non-intellectual property, state law claims arising from third-party content.” Judge Holwell of course had no problem finding that Ask.com is an “interactive computer service” and that the text displayed from Politics1.com when plaintiff ran a search for his name on Ask.com was “information provided by another information content provider.” Thus the court ruled that Ask.com

cannot be held liable for any statements made on [Politics1.com], including information that appears as a result of a search query of plaintiff’s name . . . [or] for failing to keep any alleged promise to remove [Politics1.com] from its directory. Deciding whether or not to remove content or deciding when to remove content falls squarely within Ask.com’s exercise of a publisher’s traditional role and is therefore subject to the CDA’s broad immunity.

Yahoo!

Plaintiff alleges that Yahoo! Inc. refused to permit plaintiff to post e-mail messages to various Yahoo! Groups, denying plaintiff access to the New York electorate and violating his First Amendment rights. As with the similar assertion against Gunzburger, the court easily dismissed this claim, Yahoo being a private company and all.

Written by Michael Erdman

Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 10:45 am

Court: First Amendment bars Ohio law intended to protect minors online

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Declan McCullagh of “the iconoclast” blog writes about a decision issued earlier this week by an Ohio federal district judge, ruling that a state law purporting to protect children online violates the First Amendment.

Written by Michael Erdman

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 at 11:37 am

Video Professor, Inc. subpoenas website, sues anonymous posters

with 3 comments

Nate Anderson of Ars Technica reports on the good professor’s federal lawsuit pending in Colorado. If you are interested in the subpoena angle, the Public Citizen letter to Video Professor’s counsel, linked to in the article, is a good read.

Written by Michael Erdman

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 at 10:50 am

Can a receipt be worth $1 million? Divorcing-husband sues 1-800-flowers.com

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I have not seen the complaint on this one, but assume it sidesteps plaintiff’s own alleged conduct and instead focuses on the website’s alleged offline communications with plaintiff’s soon-to-be-ex.

Written by Michael Erdman

Monday, September 24, 2007 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Pending litigation

Update on Chicago Lawyers’ Committee v. Craigslist

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For those of you unfamiliar with this case, check out my guest post that appeared on May It Please The Court just after Judge St. Eve ruled last year on Craigslist’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. After the court denied plaintiff’s subsequent motion to reconsider, plaintiff appealed, and for the last six months the Seventh Circuit has suspended briefing, presumably to allow for a negotiated resolution.

Apparently a quick settlement isn’t in the cards. Late last week the Court of Appeals jump-started the case by issuing a briefing schedule. Appellant Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.’s (“CLC”) brief is due October 9, Appellee Craigslist’s brief is due November 20, and CLC’s reply brief is due December 7, 2007.

It will be interesting to see how the the Ninth Circuit’s Roommate.com decision figures in to the parties’ briefs.

Written by Michael Erdman

Monday, September 24, 2007 at 3:21 pm

Third Circuit affirms Section 230 dismissal of libel suit against website owner

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Earlier this week the Third Circuit, citing Section 230, affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a complaint that alleged the defendant had “published” defamatory comments about plaintiff on defendant’s website. The panel noted that plaintiff did not allege that defendant “authored” the comments or that defendant is an information content provider. “As such, the website posts alleged in the complaint must constitute information furnished by third party information content providers. Therefore, the requirements of §230 immunity are satisfied.”

The court’s ruling is short, straightforward, and basically unremarkable (perhaps why it was dubbed “not precedential”). However I note the opinion, after citing the Third Circuit’s earlier ruling in Green, refers to “§230 immunity from tort liability.” By that I assume the court believes that Section 230 immunity extends beyond defamation suits to include all tort claims. No surprise there. But whether the court is also of the opinion that Section 230 immunity applies to tort liability, and only tort liability, is another question. No doubt the Third Circuit will have an opportunity to opine on this point sometime down the road.

Written by Michael Erdman

Friday, September 21, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Section 230

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