Endorsement Not Content Creation

A Web Site host did not lose its immunity under the Communications Decency Act simply by endorsing and linking to an investigative piece published on another web site. That’s the recent holding from the Connecticut Supreme court. Mitchell Vasquez, the subject of the investigative piece, filed a libel suit against the author, Terri Buhl. Buhl published the article on her own Web site. But NBC also got named as a defendant. Why?

It seems that a CNBC senior editor named John Carney published an article on the cnbc.com site entitled “The Sex and Money Scandal Rocking Hedge Fund Land.” In his article, Carney wrote “I don’t want to steal Buhl’s thunder, so click on her report for the big reveal.” The word “report” was hyperlinked to Buhl’s piece. The subject of Buhl’s piece alleged that by endorsing the Buhl piece, Carney and CNBC committed libel as well. NBC, CNBC’s parent company was named as the defendant.

The Connecticut courts made quick work of the complaint against NBC. It determined that NBC was acting as a provider of an interactive service, and could not be deemed the publisher of the content provided by Buhl, pursuant to Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act. Merely “endorsing” Buhl’s piece didn’t cause NBC to lose the immunity.

I think the court got this right under the law. The more interesting question is how far this holding might stretch. I suppose in this case Carney could have embellished his “endorsement” by adding something like “it’s about time somebody nailed this crook.” I suspect that would have gotten over the Section 230 protection. But for now, giving a thumbs up, without more is probably safe.