Feeds

ISP Prodigy wins four-year court battle

Net libel action rests on 50 year-old case law

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Reducing security risks from open source software

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. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
Bose says today IS F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.