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US ISP pleads guilty to hosting child porn

Precedent-setting case

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The idea that Internet Service Providers are not responsible for the content they host has taken a further, and perhaps, fatal knock after a US case which sets an important legal precedent.

In a hearing before the New York State Supreme Court, BuffNet pleaded guilty to knowingly providing access to child pornography, a misdemeanour charge which carries a potential fine of $5,000.

An inquiry found that BuffNet had failed to do anything after being informed that one of the newsgroups it hosted, called "Pedo University", contained child porn.

Earlier in the case, BuffNet had argued that it was a communications service provider - no more responsible for offensive content it carries than a telco is for an abusive phone call.

Similar arguments were advanced by Demon Internet before it settled a libel case brought by Laurence Godfrey, about a number of postings to newsgroups that it hosted. In that case, Demon also failed to remove postings on a newsgroup, soc.culture.thai, when asked to do so. It paid £15,000 damages plus costs, which could be as much as £250,000.

The bottom line is that courts on both sides of the Atlantic will draw negative inferences if an ISP fails to remove offensive content when asked to do so.

The days of a laissez-faire approach to administering content on the Internet look set to become a thing of the past. ®

Related stories:
Demon coughs up damages in Godfrey libel case
Child porn ring smashed

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