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Don’t shoot the messenger, and don’t bother to sue him either



By Chris Barrett

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York recently held that under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), a web hosting company was shielded from publisher liability for defamatory statements published on a website it hosted. The web hosting company played no role in the creation of the defamatory statements.

In 2002, a union member refused to endorse the union president. The union member was subsequently “blackballed” by leaders of the union. In 2012, the union distributed newsletters containing defamatory statements about the union member, his wife, and his daughter. The newsletters were published on a website that was hosted on the web hosting company’s servers. Shortly thereafter, the union member left the union.

The union member and his wife sued the union and the web hosting company for libel. The union member did not allege that the web hosting company took any part in the creation of the defamatory newsletters but instead alleged that the company hosted the website that published the defamatory newsletters, refused to remove the newsletter from its servers, and refused to investigate the complaints of the union member’s wife.

CDA Immunity
The web hosting company moved for dismissal of all claims asserted against it. The trial court granted the web hosting company’s motion and dismissed the claims. The union member then appealed.

The appeals court looked to the text of the CDA which states: “[n]o 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.” The court then noted that because the union member sued the web hosting company for defamatory content that the company did not create, i.e. “information provided by another information content provider,” the web hosting company would be immune from defamation liability under the CDA if it was being sued “in its capacity as a provider of an ‘interactive computer service.’”

The court then reviewed the applicable statutory definition of “interactive computer service” and looked at the decisions of other courts construing that definition. The appeals court decided that the web hosting company qualified as an interactive computer service provider. The court went on to conclude that the CDA thus shielded the web hosting company from publisher liability.

This decision is good for internet service providers. Given that the appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case at the outset of the legal proceedings, other companies facing similar lawsuits should be able to defeat these lawsuits relatively quickly and efficiently.




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