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.
Today's Recorder has an article by Brenda Sandburg about the California Court of Appeals' decision in Grace v. Ebay, a suit seeking to hold eBay liable for defamatory feedback left about the plaintiff, an eBay seller. The Court upheld a provision in eBay's user agreement protecting eBay from liability for feedback, but rejected a defense based on the California Decency Act. Read more about eBay sets more precedent in online defamation jurisprudence
The plaintiffs in this case were members of several collegiate sports teams who, without their knowledge or consent, were taped by cameras hidden in locker rooms and other facilities. The footage was packaged and sold on video tapes over the web by unknown individuals and organizations, under such titles as “Voyeur Time” and “Between the Lockers.”Plaintiffs’ claims against the sellers failed after these persons could not be located or served; the plaintiffs proceeded, however, with claims against the entities that had provided the sellers with internet access and web-hosting services. Read more about Seventh Circuit Rejects ISP Liability in Video Voyeurism Case