Website Owners Not Liable for Third-Party Postings, Court Rules

Jeff Berg
TRENTON, N.J. — Operators of web message board are not liable for messages posted on them, regardless of the content of each posting, according to a new ruling by the Appellate Division of New Jersey Courts.

The court ruled that Stephen Moldow, operator of a website called “Eye on Emerson” that focused of municipal activity in his home town, could not be held responsible for messages posted on the site’s discussion forum that contained allegedly libelous statements about former Emerson council members Gina Calogero and Vincent Donato, even if he had the power to edit them.

In the postings, Calogero and Donato were accused of climbing up ladders and videotaping people through their bedroom windows, being mentally unstable, using police reports to harass local residents, stealing public records, and a variety of other activities.

“It cannot be said that, by the totality of his conduct, as alleged in the complaint, Moldow was responsible, in part, for the creation or development of the defamatory messages,” ruled the court. “They were created by the authors.”

The court said that Moldow was protected under a provision of the Communications Decency Act that protects providers and users of interactive computer services from being treated as the publisher of content provided by someone else.

Under the CDA section 230, Moldow could only be held responsible if he aided in the development of the offensive material.

“Development requires material substantive contribution to the information that is ultimately published,” the court said. “Deleting profanity, selectively deleting or allowing certain postings, and commenting favorably or unfavorably on some postings, without changing the substance of the message authored by another, does not constitute ‘development.’”

The victory is somewhat bittersweet for Moldow, whose website is no longer operational.

“We accomplished what we needed to accomplish – to purge the town of this website,” Gina Calogero told Newsday.

The case is Donato, et al. vs. Moldow, No. A-5942-02T1