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The Internet

ISPs Liable For Content? 66

seizer writes "For a while now, the assumption has been that ISPs get "common carrier" status, although it isn't enshrined in law. That is, like telephone companies, they are not liable for the uses to which the network is put. So check out this Wired story, where Mr Laurence Godfrey wants to take on UK ISP Demon over a spoofed Usenet posting in his name." I got a phone call from Bill Clinton yesterday that I think was a hoax. I wanna sue Ameritech. Wonder how long this will last?
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ISPs Liable For Content?

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  • Posted by Stephen "The Carp" Carpenter:

    This reminds me of the time my father got into a
    car accident.

    He hit the guy broadside. It was at night in the
    snow. The guy he hit was driving with his
    headlights off and blasted right through
    a blinking red light (my father having a
    bliking yellow). The guy also reeked of alcohol
    and was barhopping.

    This guy sued my father and the insurance company
    settled with him for a few shiney pennies.

    Stupid Lawsuits at a drop of the hat seem to
    be the current trend...unfortunalty it is
    very profitable.

    I say lets chang ethe law so that if you bring
    a stupid lawsuit to court...the judge has the
    power to not only dismiss the case, but
    fine you for the ENTIRE cost of the suit
    (including the amount of money it cost to
    pay the judge, security, other persons lawyers
    etc for the time of the trial)

    Then see how many frivolous suits we see.
  • Posted by jeremycrabtree:

    It's my understanding that is EXACTLY how it works here. You can sue, but if you're wrong, and loose YOU pay for the whole mess.
  • "The suit was filed by physicist Laurence Godfrey, who for several years has run a personal crusade to force the Internet to submit to national libel laws."

    Uh, maybe that's why he got dissed, 'cause he's been a pita in public? Just a thought. I mean if you take an unpopular stand in usenet groups, and harp on it, well, folks'll let you know, know what I mean?
  • See related links: Free Speech, But Whose?

    The problem is, apparently, Mr. Godfrey has filed numerous lawsuits (10) in several similar but unrelated incidents. The suits include parties in Austrailia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

    It's the suits against foreign ISPs that will prove 'interesting'. In effect, they are being sued in the UK for not doing something that could get them sued in the US.

    I thought the newstand analogy was a bit weak. I would have compared it to the phone company. I told the phone company several times that Joe Blow was using the phone to say bad things about me to his friends, and they didn't take his phone away.

    I also have to wonder what he expected Demon to do. After all, many news servers are set up to ignore cancel messages due to the many fake cancels that have been sent out in the past. I suppose Mr. Godfrey would sue the owners of those servers as well.

  • This article from the BBC [] as I read it says he's not challenging the ISPs status as just the carrier (not responsible for content). His lawyers are saying they want that defence to be refused in this case because Demon were requested to remove the article.

    So, he's actually requiring ISPs to act in a new role as censors overriding the existing responsibilities of usenet group owners, moderators, and contributors. Was the offending article even posted by another Demon user?

    Did Dr Godfrey ask the usenet group moderator to remove the article? If there really is a case to be answered here, its whether usenet group owners/moderators are legally responsible for content. At the end of the day, responsibility for the actions of an individual rest with that individual.

    Suppose the moderator of the soc.thai group, or whatever, is supported by their ISP and their govt, in not removing the offending article. What's to stop their ISP putting the article right back?

    Seems to me he's only suing Demon because he thinks he's got a better chance than suing the person who is responsible for removing the forgery; ie, the perpetrator. It is not up to an ISP to censor the internet, and I hope Demon fight this vigorously.

  • Doesn't matter if you do it in print .snip.

    YOU being the operative word.

    The ISP didn't libel this guy. There is no USENET desk editor to approve or disapprove of every 'story' that appears on the server.

    The guy might as well sue the internet. He's just grubbing for money. He knows the defamation, whatever it was, will not be stopped because there are 100,000 drives spinnin the same 'libelous' comment around the world. The ISP cannot issue a retraction (which is often another payoff of a libel suit) since it did not issue the original statement! Any ISP which denies responibility/ownership of material has issued a retraction in advance, anyway. It is not up to an ISP to decide what is libelous and what is not. It's a legal term!

    If a human wrote a 'libelous' comment, then sue the freakin human. Like he has done before. (How the hell do you sue someone overseas? This f*ck is the guy to ask, I guess.)

    The guy is BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE. The wonders of tenure!
  • Let's not forget about the EU decision to make web and media caching illegal without prior permission (Wired Article []).

    I hope that Europe wises up to the need for Internet free speech.
  • The one reasonable point where the ISP should be held liable would be security holes in their server that allow people to spoof posts. This would include lax control of accounts and passwords, and allowing people to hack into them.

    (uh, I guess I should read the rest of the story first...)

  • > No matter what is said ISP's are libel for content that they have had compaints about and have done nothing to fix, especially if they recieved more than 1 complaint about it.

  • It's the same old "thought police" shit.
    Since We're all free to say whatever we
    want, this causes TERRIBLE concern to
    quite a few people in the U.S.

    The MAIN thing is to restrict the First Amendment
    down to microscopic size. This will allow
    the people who "know what's good for us" to
    "GUIDE" us in the correct way of speaking.
    (Remember Politically Correct THOUGHT ??)

    Sorry,but I'm FAR more radical than they are.
    Ship anyone who would screw with the Bill of Rights to Siberia.

  • Most activity in the US has focused on tracking the *posters* of illegal material. Most of Europe, on the other hand, has been trying to move to a "notice and takedown" process for well over a year now.

    Under a "notice and takedown" policy, an ISP isn't liable for non-local postings *unless and until* complaints are about are received. At that time the ISP has a window of opportunity to respond (typically by removing the content via local cancels), or be subject to liability. Note that complaints might originate with law enforcement as easily as with customers.

    The major US-based worldwide ISP I worked for (as USENET admin) was positioning itself to vehemently oppose such a policy, if only for the reason that the administrative staff would be overwhelmed by the volume of tasks created.

    -- Cerebus
  • Um, most people get jobs to take care of that. But then again... I can't see why anyone would want to hire this bozo. Plus he'd probably spend all his time trolling newsgroups.

  • Why did you not sue back?

    Stupid lawsuits should be discouraged as all this abuse of the legal system just makes life harder for everyone. I remember a Sliders episode once where they happened to slide to an earth where something like 80% of the population practiced law. It was very funny to watch as you could not do anything without fear of being sued, but very scary as well.

    So ok if this guy wins, he will shut down the net for most of us. Nice way to be remembered I think. Does he do anything other than bring lawsuits against people?
  • ISP are now responsible for the content the users put on theire Web site. Check the following link .
    AlternB (a non profit organisation that offers free ISP in France) has been asked by the court to pay 405000F (i.e 110K $) for having a user that put illegal content on his website!!!

    It's going to become crazy nowaday :-(

  • In the USA the standing portions of the original CDA offer complete protection from liability for slander and defamation for ISPs. And while I think that most of these defamation cases are silly, and that the ISP should not be held liabel so easily. Holding any ISP liabel for the content posted entirely by a normal user would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. We all know that it is not realistically possible to hold every ISP accountable for the actions of its users. The ISPs's only alternative would be to kill all forms of interactive media and preview/parse all web pages...and even then it would not get all of it. ISPs should be viewed as a common carrier in regards to defamation and the like.

    However, there are a few cases in which I think it might just be appropriate. Take the infamous Drudge report for example. AOL effectively profited directly from the behavior of a known gossip columnist. Drudge was not a normal user. AOL knew about his behavior, they had recieved complaints, and they even had a keyword setup for him on AOL. However, technically, as I recall, the CDA offers protection to AOL in this case. In truth, AOL is and should be treated as a republisher in such a case.
  • Even though the ISP may not be liable in the US, the UK may well be another story entirely. The US legal standards, such as they are, are not universal.

    The UK, for example, does have a frivalous bounder on their books. If you sue, and loose, you pay the other guys legal fees.

    And furthermore, there's nothing common about common sense.
  • In the UK, if you swear on the telephone, the telephone company has technically broken the law. They have the same legal status as a publisher.
  • Once we start getting closer to December 31, 1999 the only thing you'll be hearing about from the media is about y2k, unfortunatly. "My toaster might not brown the bread correctly because of y2k, so I'm going to take all my money out of the bank, and spend it on 5 years worth of food and supplies to go along with the bomb shelter in the backyard" :)

    My site contains 100% GPL'd source code :)

  • by Evan927 ( 15553 )
    ISP's are NOT responsible. Whoever wrote the page or said the quote is...

  • I agree. It seems that vilifying the internet is about the same as vilifying free speech.

    It takes responsibility to properly use free speech. There will always be those who abuse it, and we'll all have to deal with it -- that's once price of being able to say what we want to.

    I frown upon those who are quick to state "There should be a law against that."
  • So, to make these people who can't survive a little bruse happy, we'll need to moderate all newsgroups, ban personal web pages, censor email, etc . . . The costs would kill the internet.

    I think the internet is already too far along to be killed.

    I think the best thing about the internet is not what its done for computers, but what it will do for society -- force the issue of free speech. Hopefully free speech will eventually be brought to the entire world, accelerated by the internet.
  • Here's a question.

    I call Godfrey a tosser here, on the slashdot comments, he will come and sue me.

    Server=USA somewhere.

    Who's law applies, the insult comes from the USA, but originated in the UK.

    Oh what fun lawyers must have

  • You like that newstand analogy? Then get this. Mr Laurence Godfrey told the ISP three times they had libelous materials on their servers. They did nothing, so he sues. Thats kind of like telling a newstand owner several times that one of his magazines contains kiddie porn If he continues to sell it, he IS liable for his actions. I know nothing of British law, but what Mr Godfrey is doing sounds reasonable.
  • That's probably true as long as the ISP has no knowledge of the material. If you're an ISP, and I post illegal material to your web server, and you know about it, you could be liable.
  • Not being able to do something is no excuse for not doing everything you can. If Demon took no action after complaints, they could very well be liable.
  • If he wins, it's not pathetic; it's a source of income. He's got to eat and pay rent after all; otherwise he might starve or freeze to death.
  • I think this case also brings up an interesting question about the roots of the Internet (being in the U.S.) and our values vs. those of our overseas neighbors.

    Clearly, the Internet was designed on the U.S. premise of free speech; this design may not fit well with other countries' laws and norms regarding free speech.

    Is it reasonable to expect Demon to weed through gigs of postings on their servers to delete one message, just because one person complains? In the U.S. it's not. But, in the U.K. -- Maybe. That's one example where the Internet structure and design is clearly U.S. centric. And this problem seems to be a thorn that all foreign ISPs will have to deal with, eventually.
  • The problem with this is that a typical ISP is likely to receive thousands of 'reasonable requests' if this is enforced. I might 'reasonably request' that a particularly nasty example of pornography was removed. You might 'reasonably request' that a particularly offensive example of bad language was removed. And so on and so on.

    At the end of the day, some poor newsadmin would end up having to wade through a mass of "reasonable requests" and having to make a Judgement of Legality about each posting. Dangerous - if you get (say) 10000 "reasonable requests" per day, and guess wrong 1% of the time, and 1% of the offended parties decide to sue... you end up spending so much time in court that when your news server falls over you aren't there to bring it back up and - Hey! - the problem is solved!

    Do you fancy doing this job? If so, apply to Demon for the job of newsadmin...

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." -- Albert Einstein