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47 U.S.C.S. § 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), immunizes providers of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties. No provider of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. 47 U.S.C.S. § 230(c). This grant of immunity applies only if the interactive computer service provider is not also an "information content provider," which is defined as someone who is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of the offending content. 47 U.S.C.S. § 230(f)(3).
The operator, Defendant Roommate.com, LLC ("Roommate"), ran a website to match people renting out spare rooms with people looking for a place to live. Before subscribers could search listings or post housing opportunities on the website they had to create a profile which required them to answer a series of questions and required each subscriber to disclose his sex, sexual orientation and whether he would bring children to a household. The site also encouraged subscribers to provide "additional comments." Plaintiffs, county fair housing councils, sued Roommate alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C.S. § 3601 et seq., and state housing discrimination laws. The district court held that Roommate was entitled to immunity under 47 U.S.C.S. § 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Was Roommate entitled to immunity under 47 U.S.C.S. § 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996?
The appellate court found that because Roommate created the discriminatory questions and choice of answers and designed its website registration process around them it was undoubtedly the "information content provider" as to the questions and could claim no immunity for posting them on its website, or for forcing subscribers to answer them as a condition of using its services. Roommate was entitled to immunity with regard to the additional comments section because it published the comments as written, did not provide guidance or urge subscribers to input discriminatory preferences.