Feeds

ISP Prodigy wins four-year court battle

Net libel action rests on 50 year-old case law

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Internet access providers in the US are not legally responsible for defamatory emails or newsgroup postings even though they may have carried them. This ruling in New York State draws a line under a libel suit that has dogged Net access provider Prodigy since 1994 when, according to one judge, some "infantile practical joker" pretending to be 15-year-old boy scout Alex G Lunney, posted a message threatening and defaming a named scout master. Lunney's father, a former prosecutor, filed the suit against Prodigy on his son's behalf, saying that the service provider was liable for the transmission of the scurrilous email. His case rested on the notion that since Prodigy used filtering software, it should have been able to control the content. In 1995, the courts ruled in favour of Lunney saying that online services can be sued for libel if the provider takes steps to control its subscribers' messages. Now that this decision has been overturned -- and openly criticised by the judges who heard the appeal -- it joins a mounting body of evidence supporting the assertion that a service provider is a "passive carrier" (much like phone companies) and therefore cannot be held responsible for messages ferried along its service. Ironically, the unanimous decision relied heavily on a case brought before the courts in the 1940s, enabling Prodigy's attorneys to make the analogy that the transmission of email is no different to the transmission of a telephone message, or a telegraph message. Although the ruling has no specific legal relevance for the UK, it has been welcomed by pressure groups in favour of civil liberties and freedom of speech. Had the decision gone the other way, it could have dealt a massive blow to the development of the Internet since service providers would have been made liable for all the messages they carried regardless of whether they knew about them or not. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.