Recent Court Decision Limits ISP Liability

Michael Hayes
HOUSTON — A recent decision by a U.S. District judge to excuse an Internet service provider from liability for hosting child porn on its network is good news, according to lawyer and commentator Eric Sinrod.

In a case captioned Doe vs. Bates and Yahoo, U.S. District Judge David Folsom agreed with the defendant ISP’s motion that 47 U.S.C. § 230, known as the 1996 Communications Decency Act, provided Yahoo with immunity with respect to content provided by another party.

In the civil case, the anonymous plaintiff brought suit on behalf of his minor child against Yahoo and a convicted child pornographer who moderated an e-group known as “Candyman” where images of the child were posted.

“While the facts of a child pornography case such as this one may be highly offensive, Congress has decided that the parties to be punished and deterred are not the ISPs but rather those who created and posted the illegal material such as the moderator of the e-group,” Folsom said.

Writing for an opinion piece for CNET News, Sinrod called the decision a “major win for ISPs.”

“Now they can argue that not only does § 230 afford immunity for third-party content in the usual civil case but that immunity even extends to civil cases in which the underlying content also violates criminal laws,” Sinrod said.

According to Sinrod, the immunity for ISPs is a good thing because it allows them to react to and regulate illegal content without fear that their conduct could be open to liability.

Despite the good news, Sinrod was cautious, adding that the opinion is not binding on other federal courts or appellate courts hearing similar claims.