Free Speech

California Supreme Court Ruled in Support of Immunity for Internet Distributors of Third Party Content


Type: Brief
Year: 2006

The California Supreme Court ruled in Barrett v. Rosenthal that Section 230 of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 protects Internet publishers from being held liable for allegedly harmful comments written by others, even where those publishers are individual users or can be considered "distributors." The Court overruled the lower court's holding which ran contrary to well-settled law interpreting Section 230, stating:

“We conclude that section 230 prohibits "distributor" liability for Internet publications. We further hold that section 230(c)(1) immunizes individual "users" of interactive computer services, and that no practical or principled distinction can be drawn between active and passive use. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeal’s judgment.

We acknowledge that recognizing broad immunity for defamatory republications on the Internet has some troubling consequences. Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area, however, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement.”

When the case was briefed before the California Supreme Court back in fall 2004, the Samuelson Clinic submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of a group of law professors with expertise in internet law. The brief urged reversal of the lower court's holding.

Click to download pdf