Tracie Powell

Online publishers still aren’t usually liable for user-generated content

A federal appeals court judge has decided that a gossip site is not liable for content it invites users to submit, even if some of that content is illegal in some way, making it the latest decision that immunizes websites, including news sites, against liability for user-generated content.

The US Supreme Court has never addressed the issue, so there is no national standard for whether online sites and companies are liable for user submissions, though nominally protected under Section 230 of the federal communications decency act.

The court’s decision, which reversed a $338,000 judgment against, leaves in place, for now, immunity that websites enjoy when it comes to publishing third-party content -- like online comments on news sites -- as long as the website does not add any unlawful material to that content. (The same protection does not extend to letters to the editor in print publications, paper’s version of user-generated content.) Plaintiffs can sue the author of the comments, but not the operator of the website where the comments are posted unless the website materially changes a user’s content from lawful to unlawful.

Video: How net neutrality shifts may impact diversity online

Will the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed new rules governing Internet traffic further hurt those whose views and voices are already underrepresented in mainstream media?

Columbia Journalism Review moderated a 45-minute video chat with media entrepreneurs including Davey D, an independent journalist; Kelly Virella, who founded online hyperlocal magazine Dominion of New York and will soon launch a longform journalism publication called The Urban Thinker; and Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, which promotes healthy, engaged, and independent Native communities in the US through media access, control, and ownership.

The trio discussed how they already face an uphill battle when it comes to grabbing eyeballs and advertising dollars from larger, better-funded and staffed competitors. If the FCC adopts new rules that will allow prioritization of some content -- and some content providers -- over others, it will mean game over for them as well as other digital media innovators, they said.

They also argue that the end of net neutrality would not only deepen the digital divide, but would stifle innovation and creativity by discouraging the development of new media ventures, particularly those founded by people of color or that seek to serve diverse communities.