Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
The terms of 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1) are broad and direct: 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. Given that "distributors" are also known as secondary publishers, there is little reason to believe Congress felt it necessary to address them separately. There is even less reason to suppose that Congress intended to immunize "publishers" but leave "distributors" open to liability, when the responsibility of publishers for offensive content is greater than that of mere distributors. Once online distributors are notified of defamatory content, they are placed in a position traditionally occupied by publishers, and must make an editorial decision on how to treat the posted material. This is a persuasive justification for giving the term "publisher" an inclusive interpretation.
Plaintiffs, the operators of Web sites devoted to exposing health frauds, brought a libel claim against defendants, an Internet discussion group operator and others, alleging that defendants maliciously distributed defamatory statements in e-mails and Internet postings, in which they impugned plaintiffs’ character and competence and disparaged their efforts to combat fraud. The trial court granted defendants’ motion to strike under the anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation statute. The Court of Appeals vacated the order insofar as it applied to one plaintiff, holding that 47 U.S.C. § 230 did not protect defendant from liability as a “distributor” under the common law of defamation.
Did 47 U.S.C. § 230 prohibit distributor liability for internet publications?
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal. The court held that § 230 prohibited “distributor” liability for Internet publications, that § 230(c)(1) immunized individual “users” of interactive computer services, and that no practical or principled distinction can be drawn between active and passive use. The Court of Appeal gave insufficient consideration to the burden that its rule would impose on Internet speech when it found that common law “distributor” liability survived the congressional grant of immunity, so that Internet service providers and users were exposed to liability if they republished a statement with notice of its defamatory character. Subjecting Internet service providers and users to defamation liability would tend to chill online speech. There was no basis for deriving a special meaning for the term “user” in § 230(c)(1), or any operative distinction between “active” and “passive” Internet use. By declaring that no “user” may be treated as a “publisher” of third-party content, Congress has comprehensively immunized republication by individual Internet users. By its terms, § 230 exempted Internet intermediaries from defamation liability for republication.