AOL dodges child porn lawsuit

Accused of being a 'home shopping network for paedophiles'

AOL has escaped a lawsuit in the US after one of its subscribers used the ISP's service to sell child porn.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled yesterday, by a vote of four to three, that AOL could not be prosecuted for illegal sales taking place through its service.

The suit was brought by a mother in Florida after a "lewd videotape" showing her 11-year-old was sold by one AOL user to another, AP reports.

The woman alleged the ISP violated Florida criminal law by distributing pornography, and that it was negligent by not knowing one of its users was selling child porn and for not stopping the seller following complaints.

She claimed AOL had become a "home shopping network for paedophiles and child pornographers".

AOL was able to dodge the lawsuit due to the Communications Decency Act, which made the ISP immune to the lawsuit.

But not everyone was content with the decision - according to Justice R Fred Lewis, it: "flies in the face of the very purpose of the Communications Decency Act".

"The interpretation adopted today provides a foundation for far-ranging forms of illegal conduct...which (Web providers) can, very profitably and with total immunity, knowingly allow their customers to operate through their Internet services," he wrote.

Under British law AOL might not have been so lucky.

"If what they're selling is unlawful, the ISP is liable," said Dai Davis, a consultant lawyer at UK legal firm Nabarro & Nathanson. He added that an ISP in such a case would get a far greater defence in the US than in the UK.

But this situation is expected to change pretty soon to come more in line with US law. The E-Commerce Directive, which becomes law in the UK in January 2002, will make ISPs less liable under civil law. ®

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AP story courtesy of Salon

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