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Schneider v. Amazon.com, Inc.

Case No. 46791-3-I, 31 P.3d 37 (Wash. Ct. App., September 17, 2001)

Court holds that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("CDA") immunizes Amazon.com from claims of breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and tortious interference brought by plaintiff as a result of negative statements posted by third parties on Amazon.com's web site, and Amazon's failure to remove them in alleged violation of Amazon's guidelines governing such postings.  Section 230 provides that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."  The Court held that Amazon satisfied each of the elements necessary for protection under this statute.  First, Amazon was a provider of "interactive computer services" entitled to avail itself of the protections afforded by the statute because it operated a web site on which third parties could post comments, which Amazon made available to others.  Second, the content in question was provided by third parties, and not Amazon, despite Amazon's right to edit or remove the same.  And lastly, Amazon was immunized from the claims in question because each premised Amazon's liability on its failure to remove offending content originated by others, an editorial function for which the statute was intended to provide protection.

Amazon.com operates a web site at which it sells various publications.  Amazon allows third parties to post comments about these publications on its web site, provided the postings satisfy Amazon's guidelines.  Amazon reserves the right to edit and/or remove such postings, and acquires a royalty-free license in them at the time they are posted on Amazon's web site.

Among the publications Amazon offered for sale were books authored by the plaintiff.  Various third parties posted negative comments about plaintiff and his books on Amazon's site, at least one of which postings violated Amazon's guidelines.  When this was brought to Amazon's attention, Amazon allegedly promised to remove the postings within one or two business days.  According to plaintiff, Amazon failed to do so, and this lawsuit followed.

Plaintiff asserted breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and tortious interference claims against Amazon arising out of its failure to remove postings which violated its guidelines.  Amazon moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing it was immunized from these claims by operation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("CDA").  The court agreed, and dismissed plaintiff's claims against Amazon.

Section 230 of the CDA provides in pertinent part:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

According to the Court:

Three elements are thus required for Section 230 immunity:  the defendant must be a provider or user of an "interactive computer service," the asserted claims must treat the defendant as a publisher or speaker of information; and the information must be provided by another "information content provider."

The Court held that Amazon satisfied each of these elements.  First, the court held that Amazon was a provider of "interactive computer services" within the meaning of the CDA. Section 230 defines an interactive computer service as "any information computer service system or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server…".  The court held that Amazon, by virtue of operating a web site on which third parties could post their comments, was a provider of "interactive computer services."  Said the court:

Amazon's web site postings appear indistinguishable from AOL's message board for § 230 purposes. ...  According to [plaintiff's] complaint, Amazon's web site enables visitors to the site to comment about authors and their work, thus providing an information service that necessarily enables access by multiple users to a server.  This brings Amazon squarely within the definition.

The Court also held that the content in question originated from third parties, notwithstanding Amazon's right to edit or remove the postings. 

Lastly, the court held that Amazon was immunized from the claims in question, because they were bottomed on Amazon's alleged failure to timely remove the offending postings from its site, a liability for which the statute was intended to provide immunity.  Said the Court:

assuming Schneider could prove existence of an enforceable promise to remove the comments, Schneider's claim is based entirely on the purported breach -failure to remove the posting - which is an exercise of editorial discretion.  This is the activity the statute seeks to protect.

In so holding, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that the CDA only immunized interactive computer service providers from torts, and not contract claims.  Based on the foregoing, the court dismissed plaintiff's claims against Amazon.

The full text of the court's decision can be found on a web site maintained by Findlaw.

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