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.
In imposing a strict liability regime for alleged copyright infringement occurring on YouTube, Justice Salomão of the Brazilian Superior Tribunal de Justiça stated that “if Google created an ‘untameable monster,’ it should be the only one charged with any disastrous consequences generated by the lack of control of the users of its websites.” In order to tame the monster, the Brazilian Superior Court had to impose monitoring obligations on YouTube. This was not an isolated case.
Most observers cheered when the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer was booted from YouTube, CloudFlare, and other platforms around the Internet. At the same time, the site’s disappearance stirred anxiety about Internet companies’ power over online speech. It starkly illustrated how online speech can live or die at the discretion of private companies. The modern public square is in private hands. Read more about Congress's sloppy new internet bill is a step in the wrong direction
Almost all posts on social media include depictions of real people. And most social media websites include advertising. Does this combination mean that nearly everyone featured on social media can sue for infringement of their right of publicity? That would be disruptive. Fortunately, a new ruling [PDF] by the California Court of Appeal confirms that more is needed for a right of publicity claim. Read more about California Court of Appeal Overturns Dangerous Right of Publicity Ruling
Fake news captures attention and is corrosive. Like many similar social problems online, it is a symptom of surveillance capitalism. Surveillance capitalism explains the economic incentives that drive media production and distribution on internet platforms like Facebook. The business model used by internet platforms relies on collecting data and using that data to create profiles of users to predict their interests and behavior. Read more about We need our platforms to put people and democratic society ahead of cheap profits