The Ten Most Important Section 230 Rulings

Article Source: Tulane Journal of Technology & Intellectual Property, Vol. 20, Fall 2017
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Under Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, websites are not legally responsible for content posted on the site by others. A few cases suggest that immunity does not extend to sites that encourage unlawful content.


Policy Relevance:

Web sites’ immunity from liability is critical to the development of the Internet.


Key Takeaways:
  • Section 230, 47 U.S.C. § 230, is important to the growth of the Internet; of the top 10 most-visited web sites, nine rely on Section 230 to republish content created by others.
  • Section 230 ensures that a web site’s decision to publish, edit or remove third-party content would be protected by immunity even when the site has been notified by demand letters that the content was unlawful, and even when the site pays for the content.
  • Section 230 might not always protect sites from liability if the site requires or encourages users to post illegal content, but exceptions from immunity are narrow.
  • In Doe v. Backpage, the court ruled that Section 230 immunity extended to a site that posted classified ads, including ads for prostitution; federal lawmakers have considered changes to the law that would overrule this case.
  • Section 230 immunized social networking sites from liability for attacks by criminals or terrorists, when the sites is used by the attackers as a method of communication.
  • Section 230 protects providers of anti-spam, anti-malware, and anti-virus services from liability for blocking or removing content.
  • Generally, Section 230 does not immunize sites from liability for intellectual property claims; the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Section 230 does immunize sites from liability for state intellectual property claims, but other courts disagree.
  • One case holds that Section 230 means that a site cannot be required to honor a court order directing the third-party author of a post to remove it, when the site does not allow removal.



Eric Goldman

About Eric Goldman

Eric Goldman is a Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law, where he is also Director of the school’s High Tech Law Institute. His research and teaching focuses on Internet law, intellectual property and marketing law.