November 20, 2006 | By Kurt Opsahl

Victory in Barrett v. Rosenthal Case

Today the California Supreme Court reversed the dangerous Court of Appeals ruling in the Barrett v. Rosenthal case, upholding the strong protections of Section 230 of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 230 protects Internet publishers from being held liable for allegedly harmful comments written by others. Prior attempts to eliminate the protections created by Section 230 had almost universally been rejected, until a California Court of Appeals radically reinterpreted the statute to allow lawsuits against non-authors. The Supreme Court reversed:

We conclude that section 230 prohibits 'distributor' liability for Internet publications. We further hold that section 230(c)(1) immunizes individual 'users' of interactive computer services, and that no practical or principled distinction can be drawn between active and passive use. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeal's judgment.

We acknowledge that recognizing broad immunity for defamatory republications on the Internet has some troubling consequences. Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area, however, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement.

EFF and ACLU submitted an amicus brief in the case.


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