If you're going to try to sue a website because of the site's members' activity, you might want to reconsider given a new report about the success rate of such legal pursuits. Internet lawyer Catherine Gellis, author of "2011 State of the Law Regarding Owner Liability for User-Generated Content," says that the chances for successfully suing a website because of the behavior of the site's members are pretty low.
According to paidContent, a legal protection that was developed to protect websites all the way back in the pioneering days of the internet still reliably shields websites from being liable for what users post or share on the website. If this is starting to sound familiar, it should: this is basically the crux of the litigious dispute involving piracy and copyright laws that has maintained a steady presence in the news this year.
The legal shield, created in 1996 to ensure that the fledgling Internet economy was not brought down by lawsuits, works by ensuring websites are not responsible for obscene, defamatory or criminal acts of their users. The shield stays up as long as the sites don’t take an active part in their users’ activity—if they do, they lose their immunity and become instead content creators who can be sued like anyone else. Overall, Gellis notes the shield may even be getting stronger—recent cases show sites like Yelp and Roommates.com are protected even if they curate content.
Of course, should companies or individuals find a way to crack through that website-protecting law and find a way to persecute websites for merely providing a space for users to post copyrighted content, that's a whole new host of problems that would adversely change the legal landscape of how the Internet is used. Let's all hope that the current laws defenses hold firm against the inevitable attacks from the entertainment industry and we'll all continue to enjoy culture as we currently do.
Sigh. Remember when the internet was just unabated, calorie-free fun? Sadly, those days don't look like they're ever coming back.