Communications Decency Act protects website in a lawsuit for removal of defamatory postings

communications decency act protects website

Communications Decency Act protects website in a lawsuit for removal of defamatory postings

592 338 Cynthia Conlin

4th DCA: CDA applies to injunctions, too

Earlier this month, the Fourth District Court of Appeals found that the Communications Decency Act protected websites in actions for injunctive relief as well as those for damages.

West Palm Beach medical tech company Medytox Solutions, Inc. sued InvestorsHub.com to have allegedly defamatory postings removed from the website. Although the website removed two posts voluntarily, it declined to remove the remaining two, which gave rise to the lawsuit.

InvestorsHub.com is a forum for investors to discuss financial markets and information about public companies. According to the suit, it hosts nearly 85 million individual postings on almost 22,000 separate message boards, with about 40,000 new messages added each trading day.

InvestorsHub moved to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it was immune as an internet service provider under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  Plaintiffs appealed, arguing the Communications Decency Act did not preempt actions in equity but rather only applied to limited to tort-based claims seeking monetary damages.

Section 230 prevents interactive computer services from being treated as the publisher or speaker of something that one of its users posted. 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1).  The purpose is to avoid finding a service provider liable for exercising a publisher’s traditional editorial functions, i.e. deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content, so as to encourage the unfettered and unregulated development of free speech on the Internet, and to promote development of e-commerce.

The statute has a few exceptions, such as actions based on federal criminal statutes, intellectual property law, or “any State law that is consistent with this section.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(1)-(3).  However, actions in libel (defamation) are included.

The Court looked to federal cases throughout the country and noted that other courts have found that the section 230 immunity encompasses claims for injunctive relief.  Because the statute precludes not only “liability,” but also causes of action for other forms of relief based upon any State or local law inconsistent with section 230, the court found that an action to force a website to remove defamatory content would be inconsistent with section 230.  Ruling in favor of InvestorsHub, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Medytox’s case.

The case is Medytox Solutions, Inc. v. Investorshub.com, Inc., No. 4D13-3469, 2014 WL 6775236 (Fla. DCA Dec. 3, 2014), and is available here.

 

Cynthia Conlin

Cynthia Conlin is the lead attorney at the Law Office of Cynthia Conlin, P.A., an Orlando law firm focusing on assisting businesses and individuals with litigation needs.

All stories by:Cynthia Conlin
  • POWER CORRUPTS

    I don’t understand why lawyers don’t get to the real meat of the issue..it is NOT about “free speech”…IHUB behind the scenes is controlling content. Their “Admins” and “Moderators” constantly control which posts are allowed and which are not…..the conversations are steered by IHUB behind the scenes in manipulation schemes of stocks. Its that simple. If ALL opinions were allowed it might be a valid argument…but they are not.

    • I wasn’t making an argument but simply relaying what the Court had decided. When ever drafting a lawsuit against a website, especially one involving libel, it is very important to consider that the CDA will probably be raised as a defense, and sufficient facts should be alleged to get past the defense. That is a difficult task because courts tend to be conservative in favor of finding immunity under the CDA. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the websites are found immune.

      Websites will not be found immune if they qualify as an “information content provider,” meaning one responsible “in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the internet” by having contributed “materially to the alleged illegality of the conduct.”

      The Ninth Circuit discussed the immunity in some detail in _Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.Com, LLC_, when it explained: “A website operator who edits user-created content—such as by correcting spelling, removing obscenity or trimming for length—retains his immunity for any illegality in the user-created content, provided that the edits are unrelated to the illegality. However, a website operator who edits in a manner that contributes to the alleged illegality—such as by removing the word ‘not’ from a user’s message reading ‘[Name] did _not_ steal the artwork’ in order to transform an innocent message into a libelous one—is directly involved in the alleged illegality and thus not immune.”

      In that case, the court found that CDA immunity did not apply in a Fair Housing Act case because Roommates’s filtering process was direct as it expressly allowed users to search based on gender, sexual orientation, and presence of children, which was contributing to a potential FHA violation.

      However, in the InvestorHub case, to get past the CDA defense, the Plaintiff would have had to have shown and successfully argued that the website contributed to the alleged defamation in the comments. And that is the meat of the issue as to whether the lawsuit would be dismissed based on the CDA defense, which is what happened here.