Selected Cases Regarding Online Service Provider Liability

Eric Goldman

Last Updated 4/19/2005





A & M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc.

Napster contributorily infringed because it had both actual knowledge and, at least, constructive knowledge that users were using the software to infringe and facilitate the infringement; and found vicarious infringement through some dubious assertions about Napster’s supervision/policing of its service; thus, Napster cannot claim § 512(a) safe harbor

District court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the record companies to submit some information about the infringing items to force Napster to remove the items within 3 business days

9th Circuit affirmed the district court’s modified injunction and shutdown order


In re Aimster Copyright Litig.

·             252 F. Supp. 2d 634 (N.D. Ill. 2002)

Injunction based on contributory and vicarious infringement

·             334 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2003), available at


ALS Scan v. RemarQ Cmtys.

Dismissing a copyright infringement claim over user-posted infringements over two USENET newsgroups

ALS Scan submitted a notice that “substantially” complied with the DMCA requirements; thus, RemarQ could not claim the §512(c) safe harbor.


Arista Records, Inc. v. MP3Board, Inc.

·             2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16165 (S.D.N.Y. 2002)

Denying summary judgments for both sides

·             2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11392 (S.D.N.Y. 2003)


Central Point Software, Inc. v. Nugent

903 F. Supp. 1057 (E.D. Tex. 1995)

BBS sysop “reproduced” software solely because the files were on the sysop’s system–without any allegation that the sysop loaded the files or knew they were there


Comcast of Illinois X, LLC v. Hightech Elecs., Inc.

2004 WL 1718522 (N.D. Ill. 2004)

Addressing the liability of a website and web host for linking to illegal cable pirating devices; rejecting liability under the Cable Communications Act, but holding that the complaint stated a cause of action under the Illinois Cable Piracy Act and the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions


Copeland v. Collins (N.D. Cal. Mar. 25, 1999)

A not-for-publication case dismissing direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement for a USENET provider for an infringing USENET posting.


Corbis Corp. v., Inc.

2004 WL 3092244 (W.D. Wash. 2004)

Thorough discussion of Amazon’s eligibility for §512(c), discussing the standards for repeat infringer termination policies and the interplay between §512(c)(3) notices (which Corbis did not send) and knowledge of red flags; court ruled that Amazon is protected by § 512(c) safe harbor on summary judgment.


CoStar Group Inc. v. LoopNet, Inc.

Web host cannot be liable for direct infringement, the DMCA safe harbors are irrelevant to determining underlying liability for infringement, and cursory scans by employees do not trigger direct liability


Ellison v. Robertson

In a dispute over copyright infringement committed by users on USENET, rejecting AOL’s and RemarQ’s motion to dismiss.  RemarQ settled the case in January 2002. 

AOL had not properly complied with the DMCA safe harbor requirements based on a notification email address that was not working.  The case upheld the district court’s dismissal of AOL’s vicarious copyright infringement liability, but reversed the district court on the contributory copyright infringement claim. 


FatWallet, Inc. v. Best Buy

2004 WL 793548 (N.D. Ill. 2004)

Dicta that §512(c)(3) notices have no negative consequences to a service provider if ignored.


Frank Music Corp. v. CompuServe, Inc.
No. 93 Civ. 8153 (S.D.N.Y 1993) 
Class action suit by various copyright owners against CompuServe for distributing MIDI files.  The case settled with CompuServe paying $568,000.  Settlement agreement available at 


Hendrickson v., Inc.

298 F. Supp. 2d 914 (C.D. Cal. 2003)

§512(c)(3) notice that DVD was infringing inadequate did not apply to future listings, so Amazon qualified for §512 safe harbor.


Hendrickson v. eBay Inc.

Denied plaintiff’s preliminary injunction

Summary judgment for eBay on copyright infringement claim due to §512(c)(3) defense.


Intellectual Reserve v. Utah Lighthouse Ministry

75 F. Supp. 2d 1290 (D.Ct. Utah 1999), available at

Linking to infringing material could constitute contributory infringement.  Case settled December 8, 2000, apparently without payment.


Los Angeles Times v. Free Republic

No. CV 98-7840 Slip Op. (C.D. Cal. July 31, 2000), available at

In an effectively uncontested ruling, finding contributory infringement for encouraging users to post full text articles.


Marobie-FL, Inc. v. Nat’l Ass’n of Fire Equip. Distrib. & Northwest Nexus, Inc.,

983 F. Supp. 1167 (N.D. Ill. 1997).


Marvel Enters. Inc. v. NCSoft Corp.

No. CV 04-9253 (C.D. Cal. 2005),

In lawsuit against online game provider for allowing users to create characters, court refused to dismiss the contributory/vicarious copyright infringement claims, but dismissed the contributory and vicarious trademark claims.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd.

Dismissing contributory and vicarious copyright infringement claims against file-sharing software manufacturers

Saying that defendants could be liable if they distributed “a device with the object of promoting its use to infringing copyright, as show by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement.”


Perfect 10, Inc. v CCBill, LLC

340 F. Supp. 2d 1077 (C.D. Cal. 2004)

iBill, a payment processor, qualified for §512(a).  An adult verification service qualified for §512(a) and §512(d).  Court appears to confuse the requirement to act expeditiously in response to §512(c)(3) notices with the requirement to terminate repeat infringers under §512(i).


Perfect 10, Inc. v. Cybernet Ventures, Inc.

213 F. Supp. 2d 1146 (C.D. Cal. 2002)


Perfect 10, Inc. v. Visa Int’l Serv. Assoc.

No contributory or vicarious copyright liability for financial payment processor. 

The court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss, specifying that “economic influence” was insufficient to create contributory or vicarious infringement.


Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Frena

839 F. Supp. 1552 (M.D. Fla. 1993).


Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Russ Hardenburgh, Inc.

982 F. Supp. 503 (N.D. Ohio 1997), available at

Holding a BBS directly liable for copyright infringement committed by its users when the BBS encouraged users to upload files and prescreened user file transfers.  Holding the BBS contributorily liable for copyright infringement committed by its users because the BBS encouraged users to upload adult files, benefited from having more files available, and constructively knew that infringing activity was occurring because the BBS knew Playboy was enforcing its rights against the world and it seemed likely that Playboy photos would find their way onto the system.


Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Sanfilippo

1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5125 (S.D. Cal. 1998)

$3.7 million judgment for copyright infringement when a website provided subscription access to pictures that may have been uploaded by a third party.


Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Webbworld, Inc.


Religious Tech. Ctr. v. Netcom On-Line Communication Servs., Inc.

907 F. Supp. 1361 (N.D. Cal. 1995)

Case ultimately settled.


Sega Enters. Ltd. v. MAPHIA


Sega Enters. Ltd. v. Sabella

948 F. Supp. 923 (N.D. Cal. 1996), available at


SMC Promotions, Inc. v. SMC Promotions

355 F. Supp. 2d 1127 (C.D. Cal. 2005)

Website that copied photos and descriptions and then offered them to users to incorporate into websites cannot later claim to be user’s agent to take advantage of user’s license to use the photos and descriptions.


UMG Recordings Inc. v. Bertelsmann AG

Case No. 04-2121 (N.D. Cal. 2004), available at

Financiers’ day-to-day control over Napster’s operations could constitute contributory infringement.


Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley

Linking to DeCSS is trafficking under DMCA anti-circumvention


U.S. v. LaMacchia

871 F. Supp. 535 (D. Mass. 1994), available at



Defamation // Publisher/Speaker // Non-IP Claims


Aquino v. Electriciti Inc.

26 Med. L. Rptr. 1032 (Cal. Super. Ct., San Francisco City and County 1997)


Barrett v. Clark

§230 protects person who forwards a message to a newsgroup


Barrett v. Fonorow

799 N.E.2d 916 (Ill. Ct. App. 2003)

§230 claim protects website from defamation and false light claims.


Batzel v. Smith

In a weird procedural position—trying to decide if the case should be stricken under anti-SLAPP laws—holding that a website and its operator were not ICSs for purposes of §230(c)

Partially reversed on appeal, remanding to the district court to determine if the blogger should have thought the tipster email was private or if he could have assumed it was intended for posting to the blog; in the latter case, §230(c) applies,

With substantive dissent


Bergraft v. eBay

Docket No. L-566-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. 2003), available at

§230 removes eBay’s liability for retracted bid.


Ben Ezra Weinstein & Co. v. Am. Online Inc.

47 U.S.C. § 230 can support a motion to suspend discovery pending summary judgment motions in a suit against the ICS for defamation and inaccurate information)


Blumenthal v. Drudge

992 F. Supp. 44 (D.D.C. Apr. 22, 1998)

Due to §230, AOL not liable for the Drudge Report even when AOL pays a monthly fee for the content and has the contract right to editorially control the content.


Carafano v., Inc.

§230 did not apply to matchmaking website because they were deemed an information content provider by asking multiple-choice questions and specific essay questions.

Matchmaker is not liable under §230 unless it “created or developed the particular information at issue.”


Corbis Corp. v., Inc.

351 F. Supp. 2d 1090 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 21, 2004)

§230 protects Amazon from claims under the Washington Consumer Protection Act and tortious interference with business relations.


Cubby, Inc. v. CompuServe Inc.

776 F. Supp. 135 (S.D.N.Y. 1991), available at


Doe v. Am. Online, Inc.

Appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision that AOL could not be liable under §230(c) for a user’s violation of certain Florida anti-pornography statutes

Florida Supreme Court upheld the decision 4-3

Does v. Franco Prods.
·             2000 U.S. Dist Lexis 8645 (N.D. Ill. June 21, 2000), available at
§230 grants web host immunity from privacy rights claims and public nuisance claims.
·             347 F.3d 655 (7th Cir. 2003), available at
Upheld on appeal; some dicta raises questions about the scope of §230 in the Seventh Circuit.
Doe v. Oliver
755 A.2d 1000 (Conn. Super. Ct. Mar. 7, 2000) 
Under §230, rejecting negligence claims that AOL allowed a user to send defamatory emails.
Donato v. Moldow
865 A.2d 711 (N.J. Super. Ct., App. Div. Jan. 31, 2005) 
Court granted judgment on pleadings based on §230 to community-oriented website based on defamatory pseudonymous message board postings even though the operator editorially chose to delete some messages and not others; the court defined responsibility for being a joint information content provider as “material substantive contribution to the information that is ultimately published.”


Faegre & Benson v. Purdy

Civil File No. 03-6472 (D. Minn. Apr. 27, 2005), available at

230 precludes liability on a gripe site’s message board for either defamation or “appropriation.”


Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v.

2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27987 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 30, 2004)

Roommate matching service not liable for violations of Fair Housing Act committed by its members per 230, even if the service uses a questionnaire with dialog boxes to elicit information.


Gentry v. eBay, Inc.

Dismissing some claims against eBay for selling fake sports memorabilia.


Grace v. Neeley

Dismissing a claim against eBay for a defamatory feedback posting, but saying that §230 did not cover the plaintiff’s claims regarding fictitious name registrations and the presentation of information about sales tax

Unpublished ruling

Appeals court found that §230 does not protect information distributors who knew/had reason to know of defamatory material, but eBay’s contractual release absolved it of liability nonetheless

California Supreme Court granted a hearing and vacated the appeals court opinion

The Supreme Court dismissed the hearing.  As a consequence, eBay won the case and there is no citable opinion from the case.  


Green v. Am. Online

318 F.3d 465 (3d Cir. Jan. 16, 2003)

AOL not liable under §230 for transmission of harmful code in chatroom.


Hart v. Internet Wire, Inc.

Press release publishers not liable under Securities law for bogus press release


Kempf v. Time, Inc.

No. BC 184799 (Cal. Super. Ct. June 11, 1998), available at

Dismissing a claim against various ISPs based on §230(c)(1).


Hammer v. Trendl

2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 623 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2003)

Limiting’s liability for a review posted on its site.


Kathleen R. v. City of Livermore

87 Cal. App. 4th 684 (Mar. 6, 2001)


Lunney v. Prodigy Servs. Corp.

Prodigy was not the publisher of allegedly defamatory statements in emails and message board postings; and even if it was, Prodigy had a qualified telecommunications company-style privilege


Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees

§230(c)(2) does not prevent an action for equitable relief against a library using filtering software that allegedly violates the First Amendment


Marczeski v. Law

122 F. Supp. 2d 315 (D. Conn. Nov. 2, 2000)

Chat room operator not liable for defamation.


MCW Inc. v.

2004 WL 833595 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 19, 2004)

Gripe site operators not eligible for §230 because they partially created the allegedly defamatory content, saying that the operators would be responsible for content generated by third parties if the operators actively encouraged and instructed those parties to generate the content.


Morrison v. Am. Online, Inc.

153 F. Supp. 2d 930 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 2, 2001)

Cannot claim to be third party beneficiary of member contract as end-run around §230.


New York v. BuffNet

(settlement Feb. 2001)

ISP pled guilty to criminal facilitation in the fourth degree for failing to remove newsgroups that carried child porn.


Noah v. AOL Time Warner Inc.

·             261 F. Supp. 2d 532 (E.D. Va. May 15, 2003), available at

§230 shields AOL from claim of Title II of Civil Rights Act

·             aff’d, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 5495 (4th Cir. Mar. 24, 2004)


Novak v. Overture Servs., Inc.

309 F. Supp. 2d 446 (E.D.N.Y. 2004)

§230 insulates Google from claim for tortious interference with prospective economic opportunities based on disparaging remarks in discussion forum., LLC v. Ironport Sys., Inc.

323 F. Supp. 2d 1037 (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2004)

Spam complaint forwarding system SpamCop protected by §230.


PatentWizard, Inc. v. Kinko’s, Inc.

2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15675 (D. S.D. Sept. 27, 2001)

Dismissing a set of negligence and similar claims brought against Kinko’s for allowing a customer to use Internet terminals to post allegedly defamatory content in a chat room.


Perfect 10, Inc. v CCBill LLC

Case No. CV 02-7624 LGB (C.D. Cal. June 22, 2004)

Right of publicity claim is an “IP claim,” and therefore, not eligible for coverage by §230, but §230 preempts false advertising claim and CA B&P17200 claim even if predicated on trademark claim.


Perfect 10, Inc. v. Visa Int’l Serv. Assoc.

Discussing various “aiding and abetting” theories for various causes of action; no reference to §230. 


Ramey v. Darkside Producs., Inc.

2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10107 (D.D.C. May 17, 2004)

§230 precludes liability for ads provided to ICS, even if the website categorizes ads and makes minor modifications.


Roskowski v. Corvallis Police Officers’ Ass’n

2005 WL 555398 (D. Ore. Mar. 9, 2005)

§230 applies to website being sued for false light/invasion of privacy based on emails that users posted to the website anonymously; court noted that defendants “had no control over who posted or what was posted on the website,” although this should be irrelevant under §230.


Sabbato v. Hardy

2000 WL 33594542 (Ohio Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2000)

Overturning a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss based on §230 because some evidence was required to conclude that defendant was a “provider.”


Schneider v., Inc.

31 P.3d 37 (Wash. App. Div. Sept. 17, 2001) available at

§230 precludes defamation liability for a book review written by one of its users.


Smith v. Intercosmos Media Group, Inc.

2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24251 (E.D. La. Dec. 17, 2002)

Due to §230, domain name registrar not liable for negligence based on allegedly defamatory website hosted at the domain name.


Stoner v. eBay, Inc.

2000 WL 1705637 (Cal. Super. Ct. Nov. 7, 2000), available at

Based on §230, dismissing a claim against eBay for violating Cal. Business & Professions Code 17200 based on bootleg recordings being sold via eBay.


Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Servs. Co.


Tabor v. Willey

2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10445 (N.D. Iowa May 3, 2001)

Procedural case involving the removal of a case from federal to state court based on §230.


Truelove v. Mensa

Civil Case No. PJM 97-3463 (D. Md. Feb. 10, 1999), available at

Dismissing a complaint against L-Soft, a mail list operator, on defamation and negligence based on §230(c)—but plaintiffs conceded that L-Soft was an I.C.S.


Tzougrakis v. Cyvelliance, Inc.

145 F. Supp. 2d 325 (S.D.N.Y. May 21, 2001)

No liability for websites republishing allegedly defamatory press release; no mention of §230(c).


Whitney Information Network, Inc. v. Xcentric Ventures LLC

2005 WL 1677256 (M.D. Fla. July 14, 2005)

Website publishing consumer gripes not liable for defamation under 47 USC 230.


Winter v. Bassett

2003 WL 22014605 (M.D. N.C. Aug. 19, 2003)

§230 defense raises a federal question giving federal jurisdiction.


Zeran v. Am. Online, Inc.




1-800 Contacts, Inc. v.

WhenU did not “use” 1-800 Contacts’ trademarks when it included them in its unpublished database or triggered branded pop-up ads.


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sci. v. Network Solutions Inc.

989 F. Supp. 1276 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 10, 1997)

Dismissing various dilution and trademark attacks on NSI; in particular, dismissing contributory trademark infringement because NSI lacked actual knowledge of the infringement, dismissing dilution because NSI does not make commercial use of the trademarks, and dismissing contributory dilution because no such cause of action exists.


Beverly v. Network Solutions, Inc.

Rejecting various contract and tort causes of action raised by a domain name holder whose name was placed on hold pursuant to NSI’s dispute policy


Bird v. Parsons

289 F.3d 865 (6th Cir. May 21, 2002), available at

Dismissing claims against domain name registrar and domain name auction site because they do not “use” the trademark.


DataBase Consultants, Inc. v. Network Solutions, Inc.

(N.D. Tex. Apr. 23, 1997) (Stipulation)


Ford Motor Co. v., Inc.

2001 WL 1176319 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 25, 2001)

§230(c) does not preempt trademark claims.


Gov’t Employees Ins. Co. (GEICO) v. Google, Inc.

330 F. Supp. 2d 700 (E.D. Va. Aug. 25, 2004)

Search engine selling keywords is trademark “use.”


Giacalone v. Network Solutions, Inc.

1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20807 (N.D. Cal. 1996).


Google Inc. v. Am. Blind & Wallpaper Factory

2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6228 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 30, 2005).

Denying motion to dismiss in trademark suit based on search engine selling keywords.


Gucci Am., Inc. v. Hall & Assocs.

135 F. Supp. 2d 409 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 14, 2001), available at

Rejecting §230 as a defense to contributory trademark infringement.


KnowledgeNet, Inc. v. Boone

Case No. 94-7195 (N.D. Ill. 1994)

Case settled in 1995.


Kremen v. Cohen

Dismissing NSI from a lawsuit over

A domain name can be converted.


Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Network Solutions, Inc.

NSI not liable for contributory trademark infringement

Lockheed lost a separate action under ACPA. 


Network Solutions, Inc. v. Clue Computing, Inc.

946 F. Supp. 858 (D. Colo. Oct. 29, 1996).


Panavision Int’l L.P. v. Toeppen


Perfect 10, Inc. v CCBill, LLC

340 F. Supp. 2d 1077 (C.D. Cal. June 22, 2004)

§230 does not cover state trademark claims.


Perfect 10, Inc. v. Visa Int’l Serv. Assoc.

No contributory or vicarious trademark liability for financial payment processor


Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Netscape Commun. Corp.

354 F.3d 1020 (9th Cir. 2004), available at$file/0056648.pdf?openelement/

Failing to distinguish between an advertiser’s liability for trademark infringement and a publisher’s.  Case settled February 2004.


Pike v. Network Solutions Inc.

Case 96-CV-4256 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 25, 1996).


Roadrunner Computer Sys., Inc. v. Network Solutions, Inc.

Civil Docket No. 96-413-A (E.D. Va. 1996), available at


Seven Words LLC v. Network Solutions, Inc.

D.C. No. CV-99-06722-SVW (9th Cir. Aug. 13, 2001), available at$file/9956909.pdf?openelement.

Dismissing a lawsuit over NSI’s refusal to register certain dirty words.


Size, Inc. v. Network Solutions, Inc.

255 F. Supp. 2d 568 (E.D. Va. Apr. 1, 2003)

NSI not liable for contributory trademark infringement based on how a domain name was used/assigned because NSI is merely a routing service.


U-Haul Int’l, Inc. v., Inc.

279 F. Supp. 2d 723 (E.D. Va. Sept. 5, 2003).


Wells Fargo & Co v., Inc.

293 F. Supp. 2d 734 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 19, 2003).


Worldsport Networks Ltd. v. Artinternet

Requiring NSI to prescreen registrations for a limited number of words


Zurakov v., Inc.

Dismissing a claim by a domain name registrant over’s practice of displaying ads on the “coming soon” page