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)!

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