Sec. 230 is Required by Justice

by on August 21, 2009 · 13 comments

Alternate title – Sec. 230: Not just good for the consequences any more!

Since Sec. 230 has been a hot topic around here recently, I figured this would be a good time to fire up some controversy and cross-link to an old OpenMarket post. In it, I discuss the Principle of Intervening Action, a principle postulated by Alan Gewirth that states that we are responsible soley for our own actions. I argue that this principle is correct.

I mention its application to Sec. 230 (and to safe harbor under the DMCA), but do not lay out the argument explicity. Essentially, it’s this: if a user does something unjust, it is the user that should be held responsible. The website is not the one that performed the unjust action and thus cannot justly be punished for it. But perhaps PIA points in the opposite direction, in at least some cases. If a user orders a website to do something (e.g. posting an infringing video, though we can argue about whether that’s really unjust), PIA eliminates the “following orders” defense. If you do it, you’re responsible. So, is the user the one “doing” the action or is the user directing the site to “do” it?

Discuss (or Disqus)!

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Interesting, Alex. I'd really like to read your thesis. Why haven't you put it up on Scribd & SSRN?

    Anyway, I think you've put your finger on one of the key themes that unites most efforts to regulate the Internet (among other things): the perverse notion that intermediaries are morally responsible for the acts or content of their users, and that they may therefore properly be deputized by the state to make their users more moral or their communities “cleaner.” As a practical matter, this severely constrains the Internet's potential as a vehicle for Nozick's “Framework for Utopias” because ascribing moral responsibility to the Internet's intermediaries (service and access providers, and platform operators) essentially denies the possibility for independent moral agency to the individual that is denied the opportunity to participate in the communities that are either never created or simply not allowed to operate freely because the intermediaries that run/might have run them fear legal liability.

  • jasefisher

    This is a similar situation faced in the meatworld, too, isn't it? If a nurse goes a bit nutty and starts overdosing her patients in order to 'help' them off to an early 'release' from their worldly pain, she is responsible for murder, but the hospital does usually also get sued, doesn't it? for some sort of negligence or something. That is a bit different than a hosting provider or a social sharing site, I would say, since the hospital does assume a different role as employer, manager, and regulatory agent. Another example, many bars will send their servers and bartenders to TIPS training in an effort to excuse the establishment (and the server) from responsibility if a drunk customer commits a crime (like killing someone while driving drunk). Without showing a good-faith effort at 'educating' the bartender, the server and the establishment can both be held liable … although it's the drunk that chooses to cause the damage every time.

    Seems like those situations are both somewhere on the same spectrum. At what point does simply providing the location for an activity constitute responsibility for all activities there?

  • http://www.openmarket.org/author/alex-harris/ AlexHarris

    Yes, the Principle of Intervening Action applies to meatspace too. It undermines the entire notion of vicarious liability. Instead, in some cases, we'd have indemnification actions.

  • http://www.openmarket.org/author/alex-harris/ AlexHarris

    Yes, the Principle of Intervening Action applies to meatspace too. It undermines the entire notion of vicarious liability. Instead, in some cases, we'd have indemnification actions.

  • http://www.openmarket.org/author/alex-harris/ AlexHarris

    Yes, the Principle of Intervening Action applies to meatspace too. It undermines the entire notion of vicarious liability. Instead, in some cases, we'd have indemnification actions.

  • Pingback: Beauty & Gesundheit

  • Pingback: nono hair removal amazon uk

  • Pingback: buy tao of badass

  • Pingback: meubelen

  • Pingback: Optimizacija strani

  • Pingback: Jurken

  • Pingback: premier league football

  • Pingback: lipo chicago il

Previous post:

Next post: