legalissue

Web Host GoDaddy Wins Appeal In Revenge Porn Suit

In a lawsuit aimed at taking on the revenge porn industry that named revenge porn site Texxxan.com, its web host GoDaddy.com and unidentified subscribers, GoDaddy won an appeal because of a rule that specifies that it acted as a “computer service provider” as opposed to a publisher.

Revenge porn basically encompasses explicit photos and videos that are posted online without the permission of those filmed, and with the intent of harming the reputations of those appearing in them. Many victims have had relationships, jobs and their place in their communities compromised by revenge porn.

A Texas appeals court (PDF) found that GoDaddy’s role in hosting Texxxan.com fell under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This section specifies: “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.”

GoDaddy acted as an “interactive computer service provider” not an “information content provider”, essentially placing it off the hook.

In other words, GoDaddy and other hosts aren’t held liable for the actions of third parties using their services.

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Of course, given the bad publicity and possible legal action, it’s not always in a web host’s best interests to host any website. And web hosts are often able to self-police their services to stop revenge porn by strictly enforcing a Terms of Service, and by quickly responding to complaints.

Still, many believe that legal action against the purveyors of revenge porn is the best way to stop this practice. A federal criminal law against revenge porn has been put forth by congress that would undermine section 230, which could make web hosts vicariously liable for hosting revenge porn.

As for revenge porn victims, many avoid legal action because of the unwanted attention this causes, and a federal law could send a clear message that revenge porn is wrong. However, this could mean that web hosts will have to pay much closer attention to their customers.

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About the Author

David Hamilton is an Associate Editor of the WHIR. The Toronto-based technology journalist has written for the National Post and other news outlets. He has covered the hosting industry internationally for the WHIR with particular attention to innovative hosting solutions and the issues facing the industry. David is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Humber College School of Media Studies.

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