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Barnes v. Yahoo!, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Barnes filed suit against Yahoo!, Inc. after Yahoo failed to remove compromising content posted of Barnes by her ex-boyfriend on a website run by Yahoo.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Internet service providers and web site hosts cannot be held liable for republishing false statements made by third parties.

    Facts.

    Cecilia Barnes’ ex-boyfriend created a fake online profile for her on a website run by Yahoo!, Inc. The profile claiming to be Barnes included nude photos of her, along with Barnes’ work address, phone number, and email address. Although Yahoo’s director of communications assured Barnes that the content would be removed following requests by Barnes, months later Yahoo’s promise remained unfulfilled and Barnes filed suit against Yahoo, Inc. claiming negligent provision of services and promissory estoppel. The federal district court dismissed Barnes’ claims and Barnes appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether internet service providers or web site hosts can be held liable for republishing statements, whether true or not, made by third parties?

    Held.

    Yes. Affirmed in part, reversed in part. The district court’s dismissal of the negligence claim is affirmed, while the dismissal of the promissory estoppel claim is reversed.

    Discussion.

    The Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1), precludes an internet service provider from being treated as a publisher for information provided by a third party. Negligent provision of services provides that a person (or company) who provides services to protect another person or their property, that person could be held liable for any harm resulting from the person’s failure to exercise reasonable care in protecting the consumer in that service or any harm that results from providing that service. The services that Barnes claims that Yahoo is required to provide is to remove information from a website, which is characteristic of publishers, precluding Yahoo’s liability under 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1). Yahoo can be held liable under the promissory estoppel claim, however, because Yahoo made a promise to take down the provocative material and a promise is not protected under 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1).


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