Liability of Online Service Providers: Chicago Lawyers vs. Craigslist

In Canada, what is the liability of online service providers — so-called “interactive computer services” —  including Craigslist, Yahoo Groups or Facebook?

The US Court of Appeals decison last week in the case of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law v. Craigslist, Inc., 2008 WL 681168 (7th Cir. March 14, 2008) highlights the US approach: under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, providers of an “interactive computer service” who publish information provided by others can obtain immunity from liability.  In the Craigslist decision, the popular site was sued on the basis of discriminatory rental listings which were posted on the site.  The court decided that Section 230 immunity protected Craigslist from liability for those postings.

In Canada, the law is still unclear. Courts have touched on this issue.  The Canadian decision in Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada v. Canadian Assn. of Internet Providers (C.A.), 2002 FCA 166 (CanLII) dealt with copyright online and commented that: “…operators of host servers and Internet access providers do not effectively control the content of what is transmitted …their role is passive and that their activities usually consist only of the provision of the means of telecommunication.” 

We previously reviewed the decision in Crookes v. Yahoo, 2007 BCSC 1325 (CanLII), which dealt with alleged defamatory postings on a Yahoo site.  Although the case was decided on other grounds, the court observed that: “Yahoo did not author the postings.  Yahoo is joined in this action on the basis that it provided the means by which the defamatory material was published and it failed to remove the postings.”  This is precisely the area that requires clarity, and we’re waiting for a decision to tackle this issue head-on. 


Calgary – 10:50 MST

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