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Free Speech
Liability of Internet Service Providers


International Organizations

  • European Commission: Illegal and harmful content on the Internet The European Commission included the following statement in its recent report on the"harmful" content on the Internet: "Internet access providers and host service providers play a key role in giving users access to Internet content. It should not however be forgotten that the prime responsibility for content lies with authors and content providers. It is therefore essential to identify accurately the chain of responsibilities in order to place the liability for illegal content on those who create it. "



  • Internet Content-Related Liability Study A report commissioned by and submitted to the Canadian government, providing detailed information on Canadian law on ISPs and liabilities, and proposals for future directions.


  • Information and Communications Services Act (IuKDG) Article 1 section 5 states the following:
    1. Providers shall be responsible in accordance with general laws for their own content, which they make available for use.
    2. Providers shall not be responsible for any third-party content which they make available for use unless they have knowledge of such content and are technically able and can reasonably be expected to block the use of such content.
    3. Providers shall not be responsible for any third-party content to which they only provide access. The automatic and temporary storage of third-party content due to user request shall be considered as providing access.



United Kingdom

  • Section 1 of the Defamation Act of 1996 may open ISPs to greater chance of being found liable for defamation.

United States

  • Zeran v. AOL: District Court and Fourth Circuit The District Court found that the CDA premepted ISP liability arising from the distribution of a defamatory message via its BBS, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed this decision. (1997).

  • Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy Unlike Compuserve, Prodigy exercised some editorial control over what could be posted, and that editorial control was found to also bring with it liability for the content of the site. (1995). Interactive Services Association's amicus brief in Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy.

  • Sega v. Maphia In this case the court issued a preliminary injunction against a sysop after making a tentative finding that he was guilty of contributory infringement. The sysop was found to have a "role in the copying, including provision of facilities, direction, knowledge and encouragement." (1994)

  • Cubby v. CompuServe Compuserve was found to be an electronic library and not responsible for content posted to its machines by users. (1991)

  • RTC v. Netcom An ISP may be liable for copyright infringement if it knows or should have known that an unauthorized copy of a copyrighted work is being posted to the Internet through its system and the provider is able to take simple measures to prevent further damage to the copyright owner. (1995).