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Bad Words and Good Samaritans: Defamatory Speech in Cyberspace
Unformatted Document Text:  12 decided the case using common law principles. Analogizing the ISP to a common carrier, the court ruled Prodigy could not be held responsible for defamatory emails transmitted over its service lines. While acknowledging that Prodigy did exercise some control over its bulletin boards, the court nonetheless concluded that the shear quantity of posting made it impossible to hold Prodigy accountable for the contents of any given message. Although the decision in Lunney does not rely on Section 230, the reasoning falls neatly into the Zeran line in that it holds that ISPs are not responsible for their subscriber’s speech. • In Ben Ezra, Weinstein and Company v. America Online (2000), the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Section 230 “creates a federal immunity to any state law cause of action that would hold computer service providers liable for information originating with a third party” (p. 984-985). In this instance, the court held this grant of immunity barred a defamation and negligence suit brought under state law alleging that inaccurate information about the plaintiffs stock price and share volume had been posted to AOL’s “Quotes and Portfolio” service area. Borrowing from the language of the Zeran decision, the court noted, “Congress enacted Section 230 to promote freedom of speech in the ‘new and burgeoning Internet medium’ by eliminating the ‘threat [of] tort-based lawsuits’ against interactive services for injury caused by ‘the communication of others’“ (p. 985). • In PatentWizard v. Kinko’s (2001), the United States District Court for the Southern District of South Dakota dismissed a suit against Kinko’s brought by the attorney who owned and operated PatentWizard, a software package designed for inventors who want to patent their inventions. Using one of Kinko’s computers, an unknown person had made disparaging comments about PatentWizard in a chat

Authors: Herbeck, Dale.
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12
decided the case using common law principles. Analogizing the ISP to a common
carrier, the court ruled Prodigy could not be held responsible for defamatory
emails transmitted over its service lines. While acknowledging that Prodigy did
exercise some control over its bulletin boards, the court nonetheless concluded
that the shear quantity of posting made it impossible to hold Prodigy accountable
for the contents of any given message. Although the decision in Lunney does not
rely on Section 230, the reasoning falls neatly into the Zeran line in that it holds
that ISPs are not responsible for their subscriber’s speech.
In Ben Ezra, Weinstein and Company v. America Online (2000), the 10th Circuit
Court of Appeals held that Section 230 “creates a federal immunity to any state
law cause of action that would hold computer service providers liable for
information originating with a third party” (p. 984-985). In this instance, the court
held this grant of immunity barred a defamation and negligence suit brought under
state law alleging that inaccurate information about the plaintiffs stock price and
share volume had been posted to AOL’s “Quotes and Portfolio” service area.
Borrowing from the language of the Zeran decision, the court noted, “Congress
enacted Section 230 to promote freedom of speech in the ‘new and burgeoning
Internet medium’ by eliminating the ‘threat [of] tort-based lawsuits’ against
interactive services for injury caused by ‘the communication of others’“ (p. 985).
In PatentWizard v. Kinko’s (2001), the United States District Court for the
Southern District of South Dakota dismissed a suit against Kinko’s brought by the
attorney who owned and operated PatentWizard, a software package designed for
inventors who want to patent their inventions. Using one of Kinko’s computers,
an unknown person had made disparaging comments about PatentWizard in a chat


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