Californian Supreme Courts Rules on Liability for User Generated Content

As the popularity of user generated content, member-to-member interaction and online community sites continues to grow as an integral part of the Web 2.0 wave, fears about liability (specifically with reference to libel) when it comes to user generated content have resurfaced.

This isn’t anything new, of course. Businesses and public bodies have long been fearful about unfavourable comments and views being published on message boards and in the chat rooms they provide. Businesses in particular are concerned about criticism of their goods and services and general community providers justifiably worry about unsavoury activities (in the most extreme cases paedophile grooming) going on in their virtual spaces.

For many organisations this has meant abandoning community facilities altogether but for others risk-management through moderation systems has offered the answer.

An interesting case in California last week has added to the existing cases in the field, ruling that the publisher wasn’t responsible for a libel that occured on their site. Interestingly the defence was backed by eBay, Google and Yahoo.

It’s good news for the big boys who will continue to contest that they aren’t responsible for dodgy content published by users. It’s also good news for bloggers who can continue to enjoy the same protection for content published in blog comments by readers.

The whole situation of trying to hold hosts and publishers responsible has always seemed odd: it’s rather like trying to sue a pub because someone slandered you whilst you were there, rather than pursuing the person who slandered you.

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