In the e-commerce or Internet law context, "Section 230" refers to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a federal law which has significantly altered the traditional legal principles applied to defamation actions and others claims based upon content published on the Internet.
Congress's Intent in Passing the Communications Decency Act
In passing the Communications Decency Act, Congress noted the policy of the United States
"(1) to promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer services and other interactive media;
(2) to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation;
(3) to encourage the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet and other interactive computer services;
(4) to remove disincentives for the development and utilization of blocking and filtering technologies that empower parents to restrict their children's access to objectionable or inappropriate online material; and
(5) to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal criminal laws to deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking, and harassment by means of computer."
47 U.S.C. § 230(b).
In particular, Section 230 of the Act was enacted to ensure that providers and users of "interactive computer services" would not be exposed to liability as "publishers" of any information provided by another "information content provider." H.R. Rep. No. 105-775 § I(E).
The Limited Immunity Provided by Section 230
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides that "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). The Act defines "interactive computer service" (ICS) as "any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions." 47 U.S.C. § 230(f)(2). "Information content provider" (ICP) is defined as "any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other" ICS. 47 U.S.C. § 230(f)(3).
Exceptions to Section 230 Immunity
Section 230 immunity is not without exception. In particular, the statute states that it "shall not be construed to impair the enforcement" of any Federal criminal statute or "to limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property." 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(1) & (2). Moreover, Section 230 does not impair the enforcement of any consistent State law and does not "limit the application of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 or any of the amendments made by such Act, or any similar State law." 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(3) & (4).
For more information on this topic, click on one of the links below:
Jonathan D. Frieden and Sean Patrick Roche, E-Commerce: Legal Issues of the Online Retailer in Virginia, 13 RICH. J.L. & TECH. 5 (2006), http://law.richmond.edu/jolt/v13i2/article5.pdf.
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