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Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts

Abstract

The Internet is a powerful tool that promotes commerce, free thought, and free speech. It is these exact values that Congress sought to solidify when it passed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The Internet also has a dark side, which is filled with obscenities, pornography, and illegal activity. In order to protect positive values and activities on the Internet, Congress decided to incentivize websites to police the content posted by their users. This was done by providing broad immunity from lawsuits based on content posted by third parties. But this immunity is not absolute. In the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com the court held that a website is a developer of the allegedly illegal content, and thus not immune, when it materially contributes to the alleged illegality of such content. Under Roommates.com, a website “materially contributes” if it forces its users to provide the allegedly illegal content. The F.T.C. v. Accusearch decision represents a different approach to the material contribution standard created in Roommates.com, but nevertheless affirms the broad immunity created by Section 230. Finally, the progeny cases of Roommates.com and Accusearch provide examples and reasons why Section 230 is so broad. This Article applies the above-mentioned cases to a hypothetical where a website receives payment to promote stolen celebrity photos on its website. This application concludes that the facetious website is not liable under the current law, regardless of the fact that its actions are morally suspect.

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