|Responsibility for poster content|
To what extent is the bulletin board owner responsible for poster content?
I have been advised by one of the members of my online community (bulletin board, over 5000 members) that recent court cases in the United States have begun to hold the website owner responsible for poster content, and that I should "beef up the site's legal defense as a result." I'm not sure if this is a serious issue or not, but would like to hear from others who are familiar with the issue of site owner responsibility for poster content.
FWIW, my board currently has a registration policy which explicitly requires (among other things) that board members agree to not post material that "may violate any applicable laws." Is this sufficient, or should my policy statements be strengthened?
First, we can't offer actual legal advice here. Your geographic location and site/business specifics will define your situation - check with your attorney for such input.
Having said that, I'd say most communities would be well served by a strong TOS with good mechanisms for reporting and removal of problematic (copyrighted, slanderous, etc.) Specific DMCA-compliant procedures are a good idea.
Actually, the courts seem to protecting site operators to some degree, but you can't count on that. There's no absolute defense against being sued, since someone can sue even if you are 100% legal. You may win eventually, but the cost of defense will be high.
While most reasonable businesses will contact you about problem content before filing suit, there is no guarantee that they will do so. Still, responding promptly to complaints is one good way to stay out of court.
This issue recently has been brought to my attention as well. Here is a excerpt from a bill trying to pass in New Jersey, and according to my forum members it not only passed, but passed in several other states as well.
|4. Any person who is damaged by false or defamatory written messages that originate from an information content provider who posts such messages on a public forum website may file suit in Superior Court against an operator or provider that fails to establish, maintain and enforce the policy required pursuant to section 2 of P.L. ..... |
(Sorry mods, if I'm not allowed to post this, please delete.)
Interesting. I wonder if a valid "email" is considered proper contact information? Obviously there is no way to validate a person's name, but an email can be validated.
I require name, valid email and zip along with recording the IP address. I would hope that is enough. Seems like a reasonable request, but hard to enforce "valid" information since folks can basically lie or put down fake info so easily.
An IP combined with a timestamp would be more useful for a serious investigation. That could be traced back through the ISP to an actual user account in most cases.
This is not legal advice, but...
To the best of my knowledge, that NJ bill did not pass. In fact, it caused quite an uproar. Bill sponsor Assemblyman Peter J. Biondi:
|The intent behind this legislation was to bring some civility back to public forums, in particular the forums on www.nj.com. As I receive more feedback from, literally, around the country, it is becoming apparent that the bill may be too broad in scope and in reality not enforceable. |
As an aside, this bill was only introduced in January. There have been no committee hearings regarding this bill and there are none scheduled to my knowledge. I am getting inundated with responses which I will review and use to better educate myself on the implications of this bill. If, after reviewing all of the correspondence and the opinion of OLS, it turns out that the bill is, in fact, unworkable, I will certainly reconsider and withdraw it. link [lawgeek.typepad.com]
If anyone knows the current status of this bill, please share.
US federal law protects site owners from liability lawsuits. This was recently reaffirmed [acsblog.org] by a case against Lycos, where the court found:
|Congress intended that, within broad limits, message board operators would not be held responsible for the postings made by others on that board. |
Thank you, FourDegreez.