Earlier this month in the matter of Hassell v. Bird, the California Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling, holding that that Yelp cannot be compelled to remove a defamatory posted review. In doing so, the court concluded that Yelp was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The decision is particularly impactful for online platforms and review websites to make available third-party user generated content.
Section 230 provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an “interactive computer service” that publish user generated content. Congress enacted Section 230, in part, to encourage free speech. To qualify for Section 230 immunity, one must be a provider or user of an interactive computer service, the claims must seek to treat the defendant as a publisher of information and the communication must be information provided by a third-party publisher.
The ruling accounted for the fact that Yelp was not the publisher or speaker of the information. Consequently, a court order for Yelp to remove the content was deemed to be an unreasonable interference with its legally protected editorial functions.
Of course, platform providers such as Yelp can choose to voluntarily comply with takedown requests. Aggrieved plaintiffs’ recourse is against the author-publisher. Here, the defendant was ordered to have the posts removed.
Hassell v. Bird, 2018 WL 3213933 (Cal. Sup. Ct. July 2, 2018)
The Supreme Court opinion can be seen, here.
Richard B. Newman is an advertising and digital media law attorney at Hinch Newman LLP.
Informational purposes only. Not legal advice. Previous case results do not guarantee similar future result. Hinch Newman LLP | 40 Wall St., 35th Floor, New York, NY 10005 | (212) 756-8777.