An Internet Service Provider is Generally Protected from Liability for Defamation by the Federal Communications Decency Act

On September 2, 2010, the Supreme Court of New York, New York County decided a case in which it determined a defamation claim regarding negative remarks about the plaintiff’s dental practice posted by a third-party on defendant’s web page.  The court in Reit v. YELP!, Inc., et al. –N.Y.S.2d—, 2010 WL 3490167 (N.Y.Sup.), held that the Federal Communication Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”) protected Yelp from liability for defamation.  The Court analyzed plaintiff’s defamation claim pursuant to the CDA and stated:   

Section 230 of the CDA 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,” (CDA § 230[c][1] ), and that “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section” (Id., § 230[e][3] ).  “Interactive computer service” is defined as “any information service, system or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server …” (CDA § 230[f][2] ).  An “information content provider” is “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 information computer service” (CDA § 230[f][3] ).

Id. at 1.

Through the CDA, Congress granted interactive computer services immunity from liability for publishing false or defamatory material so long as the information was provided by another party.  Similarly, lawsuits seeking to hold a service provider liable for its exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions-such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content-are barred.  However, an internet computer service is liable for its own speech, or when it develops information.

Id. at 2.

The Court held that the plaintiff’s defamation claim was barred by the CDA because defendant was an interactive computer service as defined under the CDA and was not considered an internet content provider.  The allegedly defamatory content was supplied by a third party information content provider and consisted of a message board posting.  Id.  Thus, the Court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint.       


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