Judge La Plante's ruling, however, is not the end of the case.
The reasons this could create headaches for Web publishers are twofold, said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.
For one thing, laws governing "rights of publicity" are not uniform across the states, which means e-commerce companies would be forced to align their operations with the most restrictive state's law.
If those decisions are upheld on appeal, and if more judges follow suit, Web site operators and Internet service providers may find themselves compelled to police what their users post--or face the unsettling prospect of being held liable for the contents.
"We fear these cases might inspire a wave of new lawsuits that, even if ultimately dismissed, will create a chilling effect," said Sophia Cope, an attorney for the Center for Democracy and Technology, which has filed briefs supporting broad immunity and gets some financial support from a number of prominent Internet companies.
That trend has largely continued in recent years, with judges finding, for example, that dating site was immune from a lawsuit involving an unknown prankster's phony profile impersonating actress Christianne Carafano, and that posted by users of the online classifieds site.
Perhaps ironically, the recent decisions that seem to be taking a narrower interpretation of Section 230 also stem from disputes over online dating and roommate matching.
"If such questions are unlawful when posed face-to-face or by telephone, they don't magically become lawful when asked electronically online," Kozinski wrote.
"The Communications Decency Act was not meant to create a lawless no man's land on the Internet." (The CDA, the "antiporn" sections of which were struck down by the U. Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds, was included in the 1996 Telecommunications Act.) By contrast, the same judges found that it was no problem for Roommates to ask users to write an open-ended summary of what they're seeking in a roommate, since that request was "neutral." If that way of thinking is ultimately applied more broadly, the millions of Web sites that routinely use prompts and drop-down menus to solicit, publish, and sort information from their users could be forced to change their practices or face new legal liability, the three dissenting judges argued.
"In short, a victory could have given a battalion's worth of ammunition--in the form of emotional, irrational, rhetoric--to Section 230's critics.
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