“Third party content” is material on a website that is not created by the site owner. Reader comments, guest blog posts and web forums are all examples of third party content. An important protection for site owners that allow third party content is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Communications Decency Act 230
Section 230 protects site owners from liability for defamation claims arising out of third party content published by interactive online services, including websites, blogs and listing services. Section 230 immunity applies even if third party content is edited for accuracy, or to comply with a site owner’s rules of conduct. Immunity is lost, however, if third party content is edited to change its meaning. For example, where a statement that “John Smith was acquitted of embezzlement” is changed to “John Smith was convicted of embezzlement,” immunity is lost. Keep in mind that if a site owner adds commentary to third party content, Section 230 does not apply to the added commentary. Thus, a comment to the effect that “John Smith was acquitted of embezzlement, but I happen to know that he really is guilty” will not be protected by Section 230.
How Site Owners Are Protected from Infringement Claims?
It is important to note that Section 230 does not confer immunity from claims of copyright infringement arising out of third party content. However, Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act may protect site owners from claims of copyright infringement if they:
(a) do not have actual knowledge that the third party content is copyright-protected;
(b) have established effective “notice and take-down procedures“; and
(c) remove infringing material after notification by a copyright owner.
Neither Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, or Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provide immunity from claims of trademark infringement, or against invasion of privacy claims or the misappropriation of confidential business information.
For more information about Section 230, or if you have questions about this article, please feel free to give me a call.