The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School is a leader in the study of the law and policy around the Internet and other emerging technologies.
Whether and when communications platforms like Google, Twitter and Facebook are liable for their users’ online activities is one of the key factors that affects innovation and free speech. Most creative expression today takes place over communications networks owned by private companies. Governments around the world increasingly press intermediaries to block their users’ undesirable online content in order to suppress dissent, hate speech, privacy violations and the like. One form of pressure is to make communications intermediaries legally responsible for what their users do and say. Liability regimes that put platform companies at legal risk for users’ online activity are a form of censorship-by-proxy, and thereby imperil both free expression and innovation, even as governments seek to resolve very real policy problems.
In the United States, the core doctrines of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have allowed these online intermediary platforms user generated content to flourish. But, immunities and safe harbors for intermediaries are under threat in the U.S. and globally as governments seek to deputize intermediaries to assist in law enforcement.
To contribute to this important policy debate, CIS studies international approaches to intermediary obligations concerning users’ copyright infringement, defamation, hate speech or other vicarious liabilities, immunities, or safe harbors; publishes a repository of information on international liability regimes and works with global platforms and free expression groups to advocate for policies that will protect innovation, freedom of expression, privacy and other user rights.
A few weeks ago, a judge of the state of Piauí, in Brazil, ordered Whatsapp to suspend its activities in the country. The judge has also issued orders for the suspension of the service to all telecommunication service providers, compelling them to enforce the measure, considering the service has no representation in Brazil. As the case pertains to the sharing of child pornography through the network, its details are classified.
Recently, a jury found Mr. Ross Ulbricht guilty of running the black market website Silk Road. Many observers claim that the government's theory expanded liability for third parties like Mr. Ulbricht online. As I mention in a recent GizMoto interview, the government's theory of liability wasn't new, but "whether the government obtained the evidence that they wish to use to prove this narrative . . . Read more about The emperor still doesn't have new clothes.
As we reported a few days ago, the recent Spanish copyright reform granted enhanced powers to the Spanish Copyright Commission to target websites providing links to infringing works in a purposeful and massive way. Recently, the Criminal Court of Appeal of Castellón has given a first judicial implementation to this principle and departed from a long-standing judicial tradition. Read more about Spanish Court Criminalizes Linking to Copyright Infringing Materials and Reverses Consolidated Case Law
As we reported here, the Regional Administrative Tribunal of Lazio (TAR Lazio) referred the question of constitutionality of the AGCOM Regulation regarding Online Copyright Enforcement (AGCOM Regulation) to the Italian Constitutional Court. Read more about AGCOM Regulation Challenged before the Italian Constitutional Court: an Update