Immunity for Individual Users of interactive Computer Services

We know that under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “no 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.”

From the cases, we see that this Act immunizes providers of interactive computer service from liability due to defamatory content provided by a third party. Does the § 230 provide the same immunity to an individual who republish defamatory speech provided by a third party?

In Stephen J. Barrett, et al. v. Ilena Rosenthal (2006), the California Supreme Court reversed the ruling by an intermediate California Appellate court and ruled that “section 230(c)(1) immunizes individual ‘users’ of interactive computer services, and that no practical or principled distinction can be drawn between active and passive use.”

Plaintiffs Dr. Stephen J. Barrett and Dr. Timothy Polevoy alleged that Rosenthal and others committed libel by maliciously distributing defamatory statements in e-mails and Internet postings even after Dr. Barrett warned her they contained false and defamatory information.

Even though self-regulation is a far less challenging thing for individuals than for service providers, California Supreme Court determined that the § 230 provides immunity to individual users too. “There is no reason to suppose that Congress attached a different meaning to the term ‘user’ in section 230(c)(1).”

Polevoy urged that there should be a distinction between “active” and “passive” Internet use, and to restrict the statutory term “user” to those who engage in passive use. The Court noted “a user who merely receives information on a computer without making it available to anyone else would be neither a ‘publisher’ nor a ‘speaker.’ Congress obviously had a broader meaning in mind.”

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