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Court Ruling Impacts Liability For User-Generated Content

Web sites may now be held responsible for some users' illegal or inflammatory content following a court case against Roommates.com.
Bennett said the ruling will affect many Web businesses.

"Keeping a close rein on the user content that is published is now a liability," he said. "As a result, some sites may forgo control over the content, others may implement new policies to maintain their sites' content."

Another part of the ruling issued last week indicates that areas open to any type of comments may be safer than others. In the Roommates.com case, some of the inflammatory speech could be found in a general comments section, Bennett said. Since that wasn't controlled or channeled in any way, Roommates.com won't be held liable for those statements.

"When you categorize and prompt information, or give a recipe for particular types of information, that's when you're drifting into an area where you're becoming an information provider," he said.

"When you're channeling and limiting information, then you present the results back, that's going to be speech where the immunity may be forfeited. Anywhere you have enhanced functionality, it would be wise to be concerned," Bennett said. "Operators of sites that have any type of matching services, which to me seems to be what makes them more valuable, [have to have] heightened scrutiny and awareness of their liability."

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