publication of user-generated content” 101 and concluded that the Plaintiff’s “negligence and gross
negligence claims are barred by the CDA, which prohibits claims against Web-based interactive
computer services based on their publication of third-party content.” 102 In another case, the
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found, “[b]y its plain language, § 230 creates a federal immunity
to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a
third-party user of the service.” 103 The court explained that “Congress recognized the threat that
tort-based lawsuits pose to freedom of speech in the new and burgeoning Internet
medium... Section 230 was enacted, in part, to maintain the robust nature of Internet
communication and, accordingly, to keep government interference in the medium to a
In Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc.,
Craigslist was sued for posting notices of third parties that were alleged to be discriminatory
under the Fair Housing Act. 105 Although the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not go as far
as the court in Zeran, it ultimately found that the CDA provides broad civil immunity for ISPs. 106
Under Chicago Lawyers’, the court found § 230(c)( 1) and ( 2) protect ISPs that do or do not filter
offensive material. 107 The court reasoned “[a] web host that does filter out offensive materials is
not liable to the censored customer,” which may induce ISPs to take care “to protect the privacy
and sensibilities of third parties.” 108 Further, § 230(c)( 1) “also blocks civil liability when web
hosts and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) refrain from filtering or censoring the
information on their sites.” 109 Ultimately, ISPs will receive immunity whether they choose to
filter or not.
The Seventh Circuit refrained from finding total immunity, however, when it found that
an ISP is eligible for immunity under § 230(c)( 2), “as long as the information came from
someone else; but it would become a ‘publisher or speaker’ and lose the benefit of § 230(c)( 2) if
it created the objectionable information.” 110 The court also acknowledged a limitation of the
immunity in § 230(c)( 1): “remember that [ISPs] may be liable for contributory infringement if
their system is designed to help people steal music or other material in copyright.” 111
Nevertheless, Congress has not shied away from regulating other areas of the Internet,
including the process by which copyrighted information is transferred over the Internet. In 1998,
Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Unlike the CDA, which
insolates ISPs from liability, the DMCA not only holds liable the individuals illegally transferring
the copyrighted information, but also the companies that facilitate the transfer. 112 As discussed in
101 MySpace, 528 F.3d at 418. This case involved a mother who sued MySpace for negligence for failing to take adequate safety
measures to prevent her thirteen-year-old daughter from creating a personal profile on the social network ISP. Id. at 416, 421-22.
102 Id. at 422.
103 Zeran v. Am. Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 330 (4th Cir. 1997). Zeran sued America Online, Inc. (AOL), “arguing that AOL
unreasonably delayed in removing defamatory messages posted by an unidentified third party” and also refused to post retractions or
screen for similar defamatory postings afterward. Id. at 328.
104 Id. at 330.
105 Chi. Lawyers’, 519 F.3d at 668.
106 Id. at 671.
107 Id. at 670.
110 Id. (quoting Doe v. GTE Corp., 347 F.3d 655, 660 (7th Cir. 2003)).
111 Id. (citing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 931 (2005)).
112 17 U.S.C.A. § 512(a), (j) (West 2013). Internet service providers must go through specific steps to qualify for safe harbor from
liability with regards to copyrighted material; absent these measures, immunity is not provided. See, e.g., id. § 512(a)( 1)-( 5). An ISP
will be liable unless the court finds all of the following: 1) the ISP does not know or have reason to know of infringing activities, or