Liability For The People, Not The Products

Eric Goldman is a fellow lawyer/blogger. He has an interesting post on a recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The question for the court was whether the maker of a software product called “WebWatcher” could be liable when someone used it to spy on another’s computer activities. The case initially arose in a divorce proceeding. Apparently when love fades, surveillance increases. So in this case, the subject of the spying brought claims against the software company for making a product that made it easier for one party to snoop on another. You can read Eric’s blog for the details, but the short answer is no liability for the software maker. The federal wiretap act imposes liability against the individuals that “intercepted, disclosed, or intentionally used” communications. It does not provide for liability against the manufacturers arising from someone else using the product. And the state law claims failed because the manufacturer was not a party to the actual misuse of the product. The ruling makes sense, and is no doubt a relief for software developers everywhere. Cheating spouses, however, are not nearly as relieved.