Section 230 protected Google in lawsuit over blog post

Defendant used Google’s Blogger service to write a post – about plaintiffs’ business practices – that plaintiffs found objectionable. So plaintiffs sued Google in federal court for defamation, tortious interference with a business relationship, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lower court dismissed the case on grounds that the Communications Decency Act (at 47 U.S.C. §230) immunized Google from liability for the publication of third party content.

Plaintiffs sought review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissal. Applying a three part test the court developed in Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 753 F.3d 1354 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (which in turn applied analysis from the leading case of Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997)), the court held that Section 230 entitled Google to immunity because: (1) Google was a “provider or user of an interactive computer service,” (2) the relevant blog post contained “information provided by another information content provider,” and (3) the complaint sought to hold Google liable as “the publisher or speaker” of the blog post.

The court rejected defendant’s argument that in establishing and enforcing its Blogger Content Policy, Google influenced and thereby created the content it published. It held that Google’s role was strictly one of “output control” – because Google’s choice was limited to a “yes” or a “no” decision whether to remove the post, its action constituted “the very essence of publishing.” Since Section 230 immunizes online defendants against complaints seeking to hold them as the publisher of content, the lower court properly dismissed the action.

Bennett v. Google, LLC, 882 F.3d 1163 (D.C. Cir., February 23, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.