Section 230 Communications Decency Act of 1996

March 25th, 2009

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), 47 U.S.C. § 230 , immunizes providers of interactive computer services from liability from user generated content.  An "interactive computer service" is defined as "any information service, system, or access software provider that providers or enables computer access by multiples users to a computer server."  The CDA specifically states that "No provider . . . of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."  Thus, as long the computer service provider is not also an information content provider, or someone "responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of" the offending conduct, the immunity of the CDA applies.

Since a website operator can be both a mere service provider and content provider, it may be subject to liability for some of the content it displays (e.g. the Roommates.com case) but not other content (e.g. user generated content).  If you are a website operator and allow user generated content, you should understand the limits of the CDA and the immunity it provides.  For example, Section 230 does not offer immunity for federal criminal liability and intellectual property law.  The CDA may not provide immunity for specific torts, depending upon the facts.

Not all online entities, including user generated content websites, may qualify for the immunity if their activity amounts to that of an information content provider, as defined by Section 230.  Therefore, you should consult with an experienced internet lawyer today to discuss how the CDA may apply to your specific situation.