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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Communications Decency Act: Section230(c)(1) and Online Intermediary Liability

Kathleen Ann Ruane
Legislative Attorney

Julia Tamulis
Law Intern

Recent focus on the harmful effects of prostitution advertisements posted on interactive websites, such as Craigslist, has prompted increased interest in section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA). Specifically, section 230(c)(1) asserts that “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.” Section 230(c)(1) has proven to bar recovery to those seeking to hold Craigslist and other interactive service providers liable for harmful thirdparty content.

Without Supreme Court guidance regarding the scope of section 230(c)(1), courts have struggled with the statute’s broad language when determining whether a defendant merits this federal immunity. In ambiguous fact patterns, most courts have construed section 230(c)(1) in favor of immunity for interactive websites even in the face of significant personal harm endured by individuals as a result of third-party postings or advertisements.

This report discusses the legal background to the publisher’s exception of CDA section 230(c)(1). It then analyzes the legislative history behind passage of the CDA, the terms of 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1), and the CDA’s impact on publisher and distributor liability for websites. This report also reviews court treatment of 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1), noting a general analytical framework that has emerged.

Date of Report: November 19, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R41499
Price: $29.95

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