Blumenthal v. Drudge

992 F. Supp. 44 (D.D.C. 1998)

 

RULE:

Under 47 U.S.C.S. § 230, lawsuits seeking to hold a service provider liable for its exercise of a publisher's traditional editorial functions, such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content, are barred.

FACTS:

Defendant user (Drudge) published a website known as the Drudge Report online. Defendant internet service provider (AOL) also maintains its own website. AOL and Drudge entered an agreement that made the Drudge Report available to all members of AOL's service for a period of one year. In exchange, defendant user received a flat monthly "royalty payment" of $3,000 from AOL. The Drudge Report wrote a column, posted by AOL, with the defamatory headline that plaintiff (Blumenthal, who had been hired as the President’s assistant) had assaulted his wife, also a White House employee. Plaintiffs brought a defamation suit against defendants. Defendant internet provider filed a motion for summary judgment and defendant user filed a motion for lack of personal jurisdiction.

ISSUE:

Does 47 U.S.C.S. § 230 create a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court granted defendant internet provider's motion to issue a summary judgment in its favor and denied defendant user's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court and plaintiffs conceded that defendant provider was entitled to summary judgment with respect to the claims concerning the defamatory headline, which appeared on defendant user's web site, but did not appear on the AOL service. By its plain language, 47 U.S.C.S. § 230 creates a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service. Specifically, § 230 precludes courts from entertaining claims that would place a computer service provider in a publisher's role. Congress enacted 47 U.S.C.S. § 230 to remove disincentives to self-regulation. Fearing that the specter of liability would deter service providers from blocking and screening offensive material § 230 forbids the imposition of publisher liability on a service provider for the exercise of its editorial and self-regulatory functions. Thus, lawsuits seeking to hold a service provider liable for its exercise of a publisher's traditional editorial functions, such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content, are barred.
However, the court held that defendant user's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction would not be granted because the District of Columbia gained jurisdiction over defendant user through its long arm statute. Defendant user had enough sufficient minimum contacts with the jurisdiction of the court that maintenance of a suit did not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice; therefore, his motion was denied.

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