Judge gavel on a computer keyboard

In a little over 18 months, Vimeo has three times vindicated its rights under Section 230 to take down objectionable content.  Vimeo’s victory came first in the Southern District of New York; the decision there was affirmed by the Second Circuit.  In a rare procedural twist, the Second Circuit panel vacated its decision, but issued an opinion upholding Vimeo’s right to take down objectionable content the following week.  The cases illustrate that Section 230’s strength is not solely in subsection (c)(1) but also in (c)(2), which protects a website’s ability to “in good faith . . .  restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”  47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(2).  The trilogy of cases underscores the continued importance of Section 230 to Internet companies, even as it comes under increasing criticism from the public, politicians, and the judiciary.
Continue Reading Not Once, Not Twice, But Thrice: Vimeo’s Victory in Taking Down Objectionable Content

Recently, an obscure provision of the Communications Act has been thrust into the limelight.  Section 230 is now discussed nearly daily on talk shows and in newspapers, and is gaining increasing criticism from the courts. The result of this attention is that Congress is now working on reforming Section 230, with a bevy of bills proposed that could dramatically affect the free and open Internet, with the consequences difficult to predict.

First, as a bit of background, Section 230 has two main subsections. The first subsection is direct:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). In the words of the Fourth Circuit, Section 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. Specifically, § 230 precludes courts from entertaining claims that would place a computer service provider in a publisher’s role. Thus, lawsuits seeking to hold a service provider liable for its exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions—such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content—are barred.” Zeran v. Am. Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327, 330 (4th Cir. 1997).


Continue Reading Section 230: Major Legislation and Its Future in 2021